Rhapsody

You tell me about the elasticity of mourning, and I still don’t think you know what that means. Laurel, am I supposed to shoetree this, fit it into something comfortable for you? How do you carry it, all this anger, and more; do you expect me to carry it for you?

So. Here it is. Not quite my definitive image of him, but it’s probably the one you expect. It’s simple, but not unexamined.

Him, 

leaning over me as I squirm on the floor, belt coiled around his fist, staccato of leather busting me open like a pomegranate. Oh, and the buckle makes a jangly tambourine noise, did I tell you that? How it crashes against my bare ass, bloodies it, pulps me into low-grade meat? I don’t know if you still remember him as he was back then, slender and wiry. Without that belt cinched around his waist, his pants begin to slide. He’s forced to tug on them with his free hand, and that changes the arc of his swing. He hits thigh meat for a few smacks, his accuracy noticeably off. This makes him angrier. I try to roll, and, for a moment I can see the band of his underpants, which are robin’s-egg blue. This is a surprise, because I can’t understand how a man who would wear such colorful underwear could strike me with such ferocity. 

No.

No.

That isn’t the image — not the main one — I want to carry, but it’s the one that muscles in whenever I think of him. 

Ha, listen to me: whenever I think of him. Almost fifty years later, and there it is, waiting for me. The belt, the buckle, the blood. 

You were off at Northeastern, your first year, and you were nervous about everything, so you didn’t know how bad it could get. I was never one to come crying to you. 

Laurel, I remember every angle, every discoloration on those yellow kitchen walls, every grunt he made, every squeak from his heels on that old linoleum. Hell, I can’t remember my own phone number some days, but I can remember that. It’s kind of remarkable, isn’t it, the terrible things we force ourselves to examine? The cancer of memory, the curse of a forebrain, the meat function of the amygdala. We learn fear, but we can’t unlearn childhood. And that’s what’s really pathetic. We can’t unlearn who we were, or how we were tempered.

Listen: 

Sweaty white undershirt, green twill trousers, zipper not completely zipped. Brown penny loafers, gravel-scuffed toes and insteps. Bit of shaving cream on the left earlobe, a torn square of bloodied toilet paper on his chin. Mid-morning sunlight pulling through those grimy lace curtains — remember them, stained by all those wet, humid summers? — and the entire downstairs smells like boiled onions and Pabst Blue Ribbon. I wore my favorite brown corduroys, washed the day before, and of course they were ruined by lunchtime. And the floor still had small Cheez Whiz blots from the previous weekend, when we cooked up a big pot of macaroni-and. My blood was wiped up quick enough, but that Cheez Whiz is probably still stained on that goddamn beige flooring.

“Don’t. You. EVER. Steal. AGAIN!” 

I could hear him, Laurel, inside each one of my howls, I could still hear him. He may have even just mouthed those words to me, in between wallops. I don’t know.

That was all he said. Those five words. He didn’t ask me to explain, or offer an apology when he threw down rags for me to clean myself. He didn’t speak to me again for days, not until you came home for Thanksgiving. I guess he assumed I learned my lesson and would never steal again. 

And I haven’t. I won’t even park in a spot where there’s still time left on the meter. If I didn’t pay for it, it’s not mine. Pretty simple, right? He made me an honest boy. I must be one of God’s chosen, despite, you know, all the boozing that came later.

Don’t look at me like that. I know.

 I know. 

Three divorces and two kids who won’t talk to me anymore. Look at me, I am one of God’s chosen. Ha. There are all those innocent bystanders to consider, standing in front of the wreckage I became. I know that, Laurel, I truly do.

Yeah, sorry, there is a point, and I’m still digging for it. 

Such moments of clarity pay a steep price. It’s in the simplicity of it, that sparkling blink of purity I saw it in him, once. You asked me for my definitive image of him? It wasn’t in that beating. There was a moment when I got to see him cleanly and clearly.

Maybe this will help, it’s all I’ve got:

Early May, the year I turned 17, the year I finally moved out. You were still dating that Paul guy, the one with the Corvair and the platform shoes. The guy who turned out to be a real asshole to you? Anyway, me and the old man were still swimming together in that house, and everything about us felt like drowning. We weren’t even trying to tread water. There was community college for me in the fall, and he was still working as a security guard at that Five and Dime over on Rochester Street — Jesus, how long ago was that? We had our meal times together, four or five nights a week, and we watched a few ball games on the tube if there was nothing else to do. You know, quality time.

One morning, he decides he’s going to mow the front yard. That was usually my job, but he surprised me. The sky was practically varnished with turquoise, and the sun poured down this honey-colored light that washed over everything. So he puts on an old undershirt and holey pair of jeans, and he pushes that old mower across our 30-by-30 front yard, maneuvering around the half-dead hedges beside the driveway, and he whistles a tune I never heard before, something simple, not too showy. It was… elegant, you know? I see the sweat on his shoulders and chest, around his eyes. Laurel, he looked like a younger man, his dark hair shiny with sweat and all that honey-bearing light.

He calls me over, and he puts his arm around my shoulders, pulls me in for a hug. I can smell his perspiration, the Brylcreem, the crumbles of tobacco inside his pockets. It was all him, a very large and real him, and his half-hug is warm and masculine and kind, and I think he means to kiss the top of my head, but then the garbage truck rumbles from down the block, right in front of Jerry Redman’s place, with all those noisy trash cans they used to put out.

The sky turns back to being ordinary blue, and the sun, an ordinary sun, and he smells like just another sweaty guy standing in his yard. He pushes me away gently, then lights up a smoke. He exhales for a long time. I go back inside and turn on the radio, turn it up loud. I can see him from the living room window, and he looks lost, like a boy. Like an innocent boy, smoking his first cigarette. And I am lost again. I think that was the last time I ever cried.

So this is how I carry it, Laurel. This is what I carry instead of the anger. I know you see ruination before you, a great self-inflicted loss in me, but I’m doing okay. I’ll stand by that grave site today, and I’ll be still. I don’t think I’ll cry — I still don’t know how to fake tears, not after all these years — but I will honestly grieve. I’ve had years of practice, you know? And I think you have, too.

How do you expect to carry it all, Laurel? When this is all done, I hope you’ll want to come over to the house. But come alone. You know you’re always welcome, and there will always be fresh coffee in the pot. Then you can tell me how you’re really doing. You can tell me how you want to tote this thing. I know it’s a hard thing to do by yourself, but I think I’ve finally figured it out.

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A collection of things

The trade winds have roughened since yesterday. There’s a cinnamon whiff of Carolina allspice in the air, another thing that’s blown in from the south. It doesn’t remind me of home, but it does remind me where I came from.

Each thing in this room is balanced by another thing, and each of them falls, eventually. Do you remember telling me that?

I smell the rain, hear it erase the miles between rest stops and parking lots. There’s a suitcase in the back I haven’t touched since Cincinnati, or maybe Youngstown. Things I packed for you, things I can’t bear to lose. I keep my things in a duffle bag, something I have to remind myself is still mine. Your hand-drawn map is still on the dashboard, yellowed from old sunshine. The miles, dear, the miles, all contained in the briefest of thoughts.

“Do you know where you are now?” she asks.

“Indiana?”

“Yes, silly, but where?”

“Mecca? I think that’s what the sign said. I drove through a covered bridge.”

And she is silent, and I wonder where  I am.

All the flags were at half-staff as I drove north through Kentucky. “You still don’t like to drive, do you?” she asks.

“The drivers try to drive me off the road.”

“Of course they don’t. Follow the map I drew for you. You’ll find your way.”

“Way where?”

And she is silent, and I wonder where I am.

I have become a brief collection of things to her, of aching bones and tired griefs and driving tantrums. “Way where?” I ask again.

“Way Ward.”

“My name isn’t Ward,” I say, an old joke of which I have forgotten its origin. “Am I That Easy to Forget?” is on the radio. The Jim Reeves version, I think.

The westerlies  have roughened since yesterday. There’s an industrial whiff of cabbage in the air, another thing that’s blown in from the north. It doesn’t remind me of home, but it does remind me where I am going.

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Brewers Mills 1974

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This is the place where the story becomes unbearable if left untold, he said. This is where the tale-teller sacrifices everything that bears the weight of all that noise.

I listened to him rant, again. It was always about the providence of the tale-teller, never about the other participant, the sacrificial listener. He could have preserved this blather in plastic and strung it from the rear-view mirror, or his neck. That was his rosary, his familiar.

Do you trust me, he asked, and he drove the Volvo into the big elm at the corner of Chatham and Colborne Streets, June 17, 1974. Neither of us survived.

He was right, though. You never know what the face of any given story will be until it can complete itself.

She wakes to the sound of a street sweeper every Monday morning, every other Thursday.  A small town delight, he calls it, but that insistent deep hum, that whir of machinery, has become an irritant. She sets the radio alarm to wake her before its scheduled arrival, but that hum always buries the squalid tin noise.

 Your anger with it, he says, makes it louder, you know. Go to the door, stand outside, wave at the man. You’ll come to enjoy it. It’ll become just another sound in your routine.

Routine. Like the one where he leaves every morning, 6:38. He’s never heard the sweeper, the angry, hypnotic thump it makes as it bumps against the curb. He’s never heard Sugar Sugar squawk on the radio, or Hey Jude flattened by machinery. Routine. How bourgeoisie. Let them eat Twinkies, indeed.

We were not yet dry though

the gin bottle was, an age ago 

when 

we were an age 

that never impressed us much.

Where was the boy who wrote that, she thinks. Whatever happened to him?

The street sweeper shakes her from another deep sleep.

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Madeleine is the name she has taken this time

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She does not begin her song at its beginning anymore. 

We are still in love / with our presumed pedigree / of certain ghosts….

She sifts through each proceeding verse, the grain of her voice ascends. She sings of the construct of his skin, the obtrusiveness of bone, the scratch of thorns that precedes the blood. 

She is still considered a young woman, has changed little since I was small enough for her to cradle. Her eyes, perhaps, stare more deeply. Her hands tremble noticeably when she brushes the sand from my arms. The other women in the village seem older, but they are not. They stare, they shade their eyes with small flat hands, their lips tighten with frowns. 

I cannot contain him in my grief / in a temple of duplicitous priests…. 

“Are you her boy?” a woman asked of me. “The singer? The whore? She thinks you are his only favor. You are her bastard, did you know? Go, hide yourself and your shame.”

“I am not him,” I said, and the woman walked away. 

It is like this in every village. I never tell her what they say to me.

We do not stay in any one place for long. There are so many towns and villages along our path that we are not always noticed right away. There is something in her face, I think, that draws their attention. Although she cloaks herself in a widow’s robe, we are always revealed, and it is always with scorn.

The singer. The whore. 

I am unashamed, I tell her.

 I am not him, I said to the woman.

I fall into my mother’s voice when she sings. We do not need to go back to the beginning. In her song, we are both free and we are both our true selves. Of certain ghosts, she used to sing, and I still believe that is who we are.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

 

Lime slippers

limer

I .

You said:

 “So — and just so you know this, just so you recognize what I am telling you — this will mean the end of your crisp hospital corners.”

“Française, please, Marie. Pas d’anglais s’il vous plaît.”

You squeezed your eyes shut. You hated this; I knew this about you. Cela signifiera la fin de vos coins d’hôpital nets!”

And you left. You walked out on him, and you did not show him a tear. You gave those tears to me — raw and lucid — half a mile down the road. 

“I didn’t tell him what we rehearsed, Daniel. I’m sorry. If you want, you can drop me off at the drug store and I will call for a taxi.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because the French word for fuck does not sound quite so declarative to you, and it is the only language I want to use right now.”

“I’m not just dropping you off.”

“Then you can wait for me in the car. I only need a few things. I don’t even have a pair of slippers, and I dislike your stone floors.”

“Then I will knit you a throw rug. An entire series of them.”

“You don’t knit rugs, Daniel, you crochet — never mind. It will only take me five minutes if I don’t swear en français, ten minutes if I do, fifteen if the police are summoned.”

“Marie?” I said, and leaned towards her. “You’re finished with him. Terminé. No police, please. We go home, to our home, to our floors, and I will kiss you just a little.”

“You are not French, Daniel. You do not know how to kiss me just a little. I am too distracting for your petits English kisses, ma chérie.”

“Then let us scorch your fresh hospital corners,” I said, “and I will kiss you into eventuality.” You laughed more tears than you cried, and I discovered a new thing: you were mostly unafraid to run with me, and I was mostly afraid I could not keep up with you.

II.

Seven dollars and sixteen cents for a pair of lime-colored slippers. Molded cotton with thin rubber soles. You bought me a six-pack of Löwenbräu and a ballpoint pen. I’m still not sure why. You brought with you a plain cloth shopping bag filled with toiletries and magazines and chocolate, as if this were a vacation, or an escape.

 “The years,” you said. “The years that I made their bed, cooked their meals. The years, Daniel.”

“Years that are behind you now,” I said. “Those slippers, though. They will last forever.”

“Are they not beautiful? They were in a discount bin beside the cassette tapes. I almost bought you a Dan Fogelberg album… he reminds me of you. There were mauve slippers, and orange, and strawberry red, but this was the only pair in this particular shade.” 

‘They look radioactive.”

Oui. I should be able to find them in the dark.”

“You should be able to find them from outer space.”

Oui. Is that wrong?”

“No, not wrong. In fact, very apt. Very you.”

Oui. Very me. Are you jealous I did not buy you a pair? As I said, these were the only ones in this color.”

“You got the slippers, I got the pen. And the beer. Very me.”

“Yes, and I am very tired now, Daniel. Do you mind? I am ready for those small kisses of yours, but, I regret, not much more. Are you sad now?”

“Sad? Yes, a little,” I said. “But it’s a long drive, and you need to sleep.”

“Ah, yes. And the world sends its regrets.” And she turned from me. 

The city was behind us and it was a bronze Rodin sculpture, a monument to this idolatry I felt. What remained of the moon was scattered, masking absinthe rows of stunted trees. Where we landed was so far from the place I thought was promised us. Of course I was sad. 

III.

You said:

“I think you will be a very good artist, Daniel,” but it was in French: Je pense que tu seras un très bon artiste, Daniel.

Your voice was sleepy and shadowy. “Yes? I will be?”

“Of course you are already good. But great, is what I mean.”

We will be great,” I said. “You will be there to see to that, right? By my side?”

Oui. I will see it.” 

“Did you sleep? You were very quiet.”

“No. No sleep. This is a longer drive at night. It bears a weight, does it not?”

“It feels like it. It’s late, almost 1:30. We’ll be there soon.”

“How soon?”

“Half an hour, forty-five minutes. Traffic’s light, so not too long.” I stroked her cheek and she closed her eyes. “This would have been an expensive taxi ride.”

“Yes. I am sorry. He made me so angry, I could not think. ‘Française, please. Pas d’anglais s’il vous plaît.’ Like I was a child.”

“You were kind to leave it at that,” I said. “You two are like sticks of dynamite when you’re together, each one holding up a match, daring the other to strike.”

“He is a bastard.”

“He is your father.”

“That does not change his bastardness.”

“I suppose not. Let it go for now,  Marie. It is still a fresh wound. Give it time to heal.”

“Yes. To heal. Can we stop somewhere for coffee? I feel a migraine gathering between my eyes.”

“We’re not too far from home, honey.”

“Please? I won’t be able to sleep anyway. I am still tightened up.”

Wound up.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re too wound up. That’s the expression.”

Pardon, can we somewhere for a fucking coffee so I can will not be so wound up?”

“Yes. You are tightened up, my mistake. Next exit, I promise.”

“I am so sorry, Daniel.” 

C’est la vie. It’s been a long night.”

Oui. It has. We are arguing like bastards.”

IV.

I said:

“Two creams, two sugars, is that correct?”

“Yes, my love. And I am so sorry. Beaucoup d’excuses.”

“No worries,” I said. “Anything else?”

No. Yes! Perhaps beignets, if they have them? I am suddenly hungry.”

“I’ll ask, you bet. Or any reasonable substitute.” 

Oui. Any reasonable substitute.”

It was two o’clock in the morning, but the restaurant — Mister Warren’s Southside — was busy, with a lot of truckers and shift workers filling up on coffee and early/late breakfasts. Who ‘Mister Warren’ was, I had no idea. The room was filled with the usual aromas of a good diner: freshly brewed coffee, greasy eggs, toast, bacon, good cigarettes. I almost went back to the car to ask you if you wanted a sit-down breakfast, but then I remembered your oncoming migraine. So I stood in line and waited. There were three large men and a laughing tattooed woman ahead of me. I thought you might fall asleep, and so was in no hurry. I thought of ‘Nighthawks’ by Edward Hopper, and smiled. If I could be that good….

When it was my turn to order, I asked for two large coffees, and half-a-dozen Boston creams. I think they were freshly made. I stuffed extra napkins in my pocket. I almost started to whistle, walking out the door, but I think I knew.

The car, of course, was gone. I retraced my steps, trying to convince myself I parked one row over, or not as close to the parking lot lights. I refused to notice the plain cloth shopping bag left in place of the car. I thought you were playing a game with me because I corrected your English. How many times did I correct your English? So I stood there. And I stood there longer, and I waited. I knew but refused to believe. You were gone. Inside that plain cloth shopping bag was your / my pair of lime green slippers. No note. No explanation. 

I found a ride home, eventually. I arrived at seven-thirty that morning. My car was there, parked in the driveway, and you were still gone. There was no note. I decided not to wait for you. I went inside and placed the plain cloth shopping bag on the kitchen table.

I cried more tears than I laughed, and I discovered a new thing: you were mostly afraid to run with me, and I was mostly afraid you would not keep up with me.

I went to bed and I slept on the back of several broken hours. When I woke up, I showered and shaved. 

Then I discovered a new thing about me: I would move on. And I decided I would cancel my French lesson on Monday.

I took them for three more weeks, and then signed on for the advanced class.

sub.stance

I remember when dust was more beautiful than substance, something uncatchable, something whisked into cat corners. This was home. This was being a child. 

There is a box of in-season lettuce on the sidewalk beside the glass doors of Karl’s Barber Shop. Ladybugs — many — are sitting on the cardboard folds. Do they sit or stand? I’ve always wondered. The box is set crooked against the chipped brick wall, and it has been filled many times before: for lettuce, now, perhaps for apples, once, or old dishes, frail, muffled by newspapers and crimped grandmother-pillows. 

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This, being a child:

My father stands at the door, and he exhales hues of cigarette smoke, blue and gray and an ivory plume in the shape of a Saturday morning. The smoke smells important and impatient, the scent of everything I know of him: his roughness, his capriciousness. He is still a young man, and he has created everything.

It is numbness more than ecstasy that will lift you, I would tell my five-year-old self.

“Morning, Johnny. Brought your boy with you today, huh?”

“He’s getting a little long behind the ears. Say hi, bubs.”

I say, “Hi.”

“Well, hey, little man. You turning into a hippy? That hair is looking wild.”

“No, sir. Daddy say I jus’ need a trim.”

“Just a trim, yessir. Hop on over here, son, let’s see what I can see. Look at you, grown two inches since last time. What you feeding him, John? Magic beans?”

“Spinach!” I shout.

“That right? Never could stand the stuff, but it must work for you. Same as usual, John?”

“Yeah,” says my father, who is already seated. “No. Cut it a little shorter. There’s talk of layoffs at the plant this fall. Might not see another haircut ‘til Christmastime. Go ahead and bean him.”

“Damn, Johnny. Hope things turn out okay.”

“Probably not. Goddamn Nixon. Just do the boy today, Karl. I’m driving cab tonight, and I don’t care how I look.”

“That so?”

“Part-time, cigarette and gas money, mostly.” He picks up a copy of Field and Stream. There is a picture of a trout on the cover. He showed it to me last time we were here. “This is a trout,” he said. “About half as long as you are, Joseph. Those colors above his belly tell me he is of the rainbow variety.”

“Really, Daddy?”

“You calling me a liar, son?”

“No, sir. Never saw a fish that big before, that’s all.”

“They get bigger,” he says, and shrugs. That was my father’s primary form of communication: the sharp grunt of the shrug, the shut-up-if-you-think-you-have-more-to-say shorthand that is so easily misunderstood. It can be difficult to translate when you’re five years old. When you’re fifty-five, even.

“Wasn’t expecting you ‘til next Saturday,” says Mister Karl. “Wasn’t this your old lady’s turn to look after him?”

“Bitch changed her plans,” Daddy says. “She knew I had things to do this weekend. Goddamn car payment, goddamn kid payment. She won’t be happy ‘til she sees me go bust.”

“Uh, John?”

“Now I’m stuck with you-know-who all weekend. Might be able to land a babysitter, I dunno, I doubt it. It’s already too late to call my usual sitter.”

“Johnny? Big ears here, son.”

Daddy looks over and sees Karl pointing at me. I can see him in the big mirror. I pretend not to notice, but my face feels red.

“Aw, hell,” Daddy finally says. “Joseph gets to ride in the front of the cab with me tonight, ain’t that right, bubs?”

I try to be cheerful. “Yes, sir. And we’re gonna have hotdogs for supper, Mister Karl. And watermelon!”

“And watermelon? Holy smoke, kid, you got a good Saturday planned, dontcha? Wish I were going with you, instead of cutting hair all day. And you get to spend time with your old man. You’re one lucky kid, you know that?”

“Yes, sir. And Mister Karl?”

“Yeah, Joe?”

“Why is there a box of lettuce out in front of your shop? You know there’s a bunch of ladybugs all over the box? Won’t they eat the lettuce?”

Mister Karl smiles. “Yeah, kid, I hope so.” And then to my father: “You know old Pierce over at the hardware store? His wife put up a garden again this summer — the whole backyard this time — and he can’t give stuff away fast enough. Some mornings, it’ll be green beans, next day it’s onions. Today, it’s lettuce. A whole box of it, as you can see. What do I want with that much lettuce? A few pounds of potatoes, sure, but lettuce? Do I look like a rabbit? If you want a head or five, grab some on your way home. Otherwise, let the bugs have it. At least it don’t stink, like those turnips did. Hey, you remember that, Johnny? A goddamn milk crate full of ‘em. I told Pierce, son, next time bring me some of your old lady’s brisket, not her turnips. Does he ever get tired of ignoring me? Not yet, he don’t.”

I listen to the cadence of Mister Karl’s voice, but not to most of his words. I  think he is a nice man, but he seems to be honestly confused by someone who has done a nice thing for him. Free vegetables? Free lettuce? Daddy calls lettuce a ruination of a good sandwich. I guess so. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem important enough to worry about it, or become angry over. Let the bugs have it, I guess. 

Mister Karl trims me very short. There is a big pile of hair beside the barber chair. I didn’t know there was so much of me to take. Daddy did not look at me the whole time, or at anything else, not even the old magazines. He nodded during Mister Karl’s speech about vegetables, but I don’t think he was even listening. Mister Karl dusts off my neck and shoulders with his little barber brush, and then helps me down. Daddy does not notice my haircut is finished.

“See you next week, Johnny? You’re getting a little long behind the ears, too, fella.”

“Yeah, maybe. We’ll see. Take it easy, Karl. Hell of a night tonight, I guess. Wish me luck.”

Mr. Karl hands me a penny for the gumball machine. “Good luck, son,” he says, and then he winks. This time, I get an orange gumball, one of the big ones.

Daddy takes one last look at the box of wilting lettuce outside and nudges it with the toe of his boot so that it’s flush to the wall. He lights up a cigarette and walks on ahead of me. I try to keep up, but fall further and further behind. 

This is being a child. This was being dust. This is being dust.

 

Detected in a moment of profound silence

It might as well be written in paraffin, she said,
the way this will all burn between us

Uncle Nathan would not regret choosing the white athletic socks
as an accoutrement to his burial suit,
nor his choice of “Love in Vain”
at his memorial service

and there he is, with a lavish depiction of goldfish
scales on his bow tie,
Yves Saint Laurent tidal-gray shirt and a fleur-de-lis
stitched
on the breast pocket of his forty-year-old wedding jacket

the nieces will be outraged and
the nephews, not so much
did he have any money
who was he, anyway?

might as well be buried
between two Valencia orange crates
as between these two half-grieving ex-wives
who study the pink in each other’s blouse:

Dee, the round, idiosyncratic blonde, fifteen years
younger than he / a subscriber to three
plant-based leggings franchises

and

Dorian, the angular other blonde, twenty-seven, smarter
than everyone else in the room, who still cannot measure
the time it took for him to dissolve their
prenup

he kept folded photocopies of his parents’
obituaries in his wallet and they have turned brown
and unimportantly crisp — like well-preserved October
leaves, or Ore-Ida tater tots

and

he kept his necessary papers — driver’s license,
blood donor card, theater
tickets — in his left shoe / told his grandchildren
he was wounded in some war / hence the perpetual
limp

and now

a flourish of ghosts gather
at the dais

today we say goodbye to
a fine man…

Aunt Marlene, a flask of high-octane bourbon
in the confounding folds of her dress / takes
a petite swallow / she’ll be damned
if she shares it with the impotent man pretending
to be her husband two seats down
from that shaggy empirical redhead
he tries to impress with the cut of his
motorcycle boots

in the sixty-seventh and final mortal year of our dear
Uncle Nathan

and then

there is that sacred moment between

‘can you give me’

and the conspicuous dirty silence,
when all the introspective heartbeats and
the slightly humid exclamations
stop

and

the sweat dangles from the lip
the tear struggles to define itself and fall
in a meaningful display of public mourning

and

the voice becomes
a bellicose yowl of unashamed grief

and

eternity is, all at once, undressed / then clothed
between the dry heaves of bored deprivation /pity,

and then

the sky pulls back its pretty laced veil
to reveal its demanding blistered face

‘an amen for brother Nathan?’

and amen

and

the nieces / nephews
stare at each other on their cellphones confused
and then make their plans
for when this
boring shit is over

Caius

backlit-blur-boys-brother-551591

we sleep above the roots
our legs knotted
our hands folded
beneath us
listening for the weeds to rinse
from our ears all
the twitches of the road

we have seen all there is,
you say,
and we will eat
what first must be blessed —
old hamburger meat
and flour tortillas from torn plastic bags
behind Trader Joe’s,
a feast for boys who first learned how to crawl
on a dirt kitchen floor

these things we must see
these things we must know:
these fallow graveyards the shape of oceans
these gravel pits filled with factory-defective coffins
with cracked lids and split silk liners —
deep discounts
for the dead on a budget

i see you run towards me in your sock feet your
leathered arms pumping
as if you were still a
child
as if I had the strength
to catch you in my arms

do you remember the
summery brine of sweat and rain
that dribbled down our faces
when we were boys
and did not think to be men
until much later

she has her chores, you said,
and I am one of them

brother Caius
you have become my chore now,
and I have become yours

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels