All the Love We Lay Claim To
My great-grandfather Juho leans forward slightly
in his chair, as though about to speak
or to reach out his hand one last time
to his beloved, at rest in the casket beside him,
its doorway already covered in handfuls of flowers
and soil, heavy and damp, the solemn faces
of men in the background looking on, weary,
their funeral suits and ties virtually interchangeable.
But the mourner up front wears his work shirt
for this, the hardest labor he has endured
in a lifetime of work, his hands having carved
long into the night a seemingly endless array of roses
and filigree into the wood, as he had once carved
into the marriage bed, and the children’s cribs,
hands that look suddenly exposed and empty,
lingering like uncertain birds too long into winter.
Could he have imagined this moment when he arrived
from that other world, with neither currency
nor language, to stake his claim and break this
ground open like a sacred book of secrets?
He must have known, without ever having to say,
that the earth we till must be fed in return,
and all the love we lay claim to must be met equally
with grief, solid as the ground on which we stand.
This, it seems, is the only bargain we are offered,
our baffled silence continually interpreted as assent.
by Greg Watson
Editor’s Note: The perfectly placed simile in the center of this poem anchors the speaker’s memory of grief and loss.