I watched the widowed mother
pause on the steps of
Matilde of the Sacred Heart,
a sight in black and white
posed in a black polyester dress,
cracked white concrete,
and I studied her
studying my children
across the street
riding their bicycles and hiding
behind summer trees and sharing
their lovely laughter,
and it gave her
and it gave me
and it gave us
a précis of her new world.
she considered the words
the privileged language
still, inside, chanting, inside,
in an idiotic, monotone
an old rubric
gutted by a god
prone to soliloquies
she hailed a cab
for someplace else.
We wash the bone mud
from our torsos,
and if there is a word for this,
it is sorrow.
We see the frustration
in the lean faces of our children,
the dirt griming their arms,
the hollowness griming their bellies.
You and I will fumble with
our usual fable:
this will pass
and it will pass soon
and it will pass as we sleep
and the land will turn green again
and the sun will turn warm again
and the fields will grow thick again
and we will rest all our doubts,
but yes, this will pass.
A malingering moon watches
and the baby studies the
cracked face through the worn curtains
in her room.
There is music downstairs
to accompany our fable:
I have my father’s old guitar and
you tap a pencil
on the kitchen table to
the plink of wash water in
the beaten feed bucket.
You sing indistinguishable words,
to be a prayer and perhaps that’s what it is,
you say it is,
but it fades into hushes until we
can barely hear the sounds you meant for God.
We take turns wrapping our hands
around each other’s fists,
and then we rest them on the gathered tablecloth,
my guitar on my knee,
Sally on your lap,
and I thank God we cannot see each other’s eyes
because I know there is resignation in them
and I know there are ashes in them
where a fire once burned,
but the fire has burned away
and I cannot see that in you again,
I will not see that in you again,
and yes, this will pass.
We take each other to our rest
in our crumpled bed, with its heavy iron posts
that flake with rust
that you wash away with a dry rag
and you sweep away the dirt that falls
out of my cuffs and pockets
We will pray about love
to each other
and we will pray about love
for each other
until sleep takes us
and it will.
Like the days before it,
this one has finally passed.
We laid beside the fractured cinder blocks
we found in the field behind
watched the onioned sunset
orange, no, tangerine, no, scarlet, no,
just a moment,
it’s changing again, just
that no one
will see again or believe was real.
The grass has become tall
in the meantime and
have been reaching for our blanket
and the ants are confused
by the quiet thoroughfare of our veins.
as serious as the hovering gray
tapestry of clouds,
and as pale
as the milkweed seeds that
on your breast
and we have stopped
The ground has become dark and
our blanket is the same inferior color
rooftop of this ruined sky
and we are gone, so gone
in the nothing color of goodbye
that no one will witness
My eyes abide the blighted light
of the yellow-leafed tree.
Please set my stone here
and let us both rest.
But please stop and listen —
I know you can hear it,
the grief in my spirit,
and you see the fraying of my days,
my finite breaths
I still lean into old memories,
away from you,
away from who
I wanted to be.
I did not expect to be loved so well.
We sit cross-legged on the scatter rug and listen to the rain peck at the windows. The water fractures itself against the screen and it draws patterns I want to trace with my fingers. We have a box of candles on the kitchen table, for when the dark comes back inside. She leans into me whenever the rain turns loud, and her face is solemn and so still. Outside, the wind carves itself into the hickory trees. She can’t hear me offer up comfort, so I lean back into her. We listen. We wait.
Forty years on,
she follows the path of his ghost,
a slender and thorned road
that leads to a ruined ecstasy.
Above the carpeted dirt,
she remembers the boy’s twitching mouth,
so unaccustomed to casual pleasure,
and the slow burn of tobacco between them.
The last of the afternoon light
dripped between the hemlocks
and fell upon bare shoulders.
And she, alone, still wonders
if he ever smelled the gunpowder.
A perpetual yesterday dressed in ash;
grief, do not whisper but lay hard upon my breast,
and ache, yes, as I reach for my faith.
Death’s sore words are set upon the tongue, but keep her, Lord,
for mercy, yes, and love.
In honor of my mother, who unexpectedly passed April 14/18. And I, in another country, mourn her.