I heard your mother found you
in your bed as if asleep,
your affairs all tidy, neat.
The glass sat in the sink, clothing
folded at your feet.
And this remains
your mother’s final memory of you,
one she has to keep.
You waited until spring,
thought the timing would be right
and planned it just as carefully
as how you threaded skis through
tight white-mantled trees.
Why antifreeze, I wonder?
Wouldn’t sleeping pills suffice?
As your gut disintegrated,
did you think it might keep ice from
forming in your soul,
a man who so loved winter, only snow
could keep him whole?
I have to think I’m lucky;
my last memory of you
is a swirl of snow in vortex
behind a disappearing back,
sweeping, swift down Cowboy Mountain
in the trail of your deep tracks.
A long day I’ve had of it, and a tiring one, and little to show but this loose scree of words like dinosaurs; the fossilized remains of once great moments.
They tell me beauty’s truth, but still I fail—what use is it to me that Keats once wrote, thou still unravished bride of quietness, and tore the language from God’s living throat. I fossick, find, make space back of the truck—say virgin girl lets go. It’s time to fuck. . .
It was the hinge of a door when you left me. A door closing down like a small fire that has come to know destiny in its own intricate unraveling, a fire which is cold and burns like the infamous past and what are we made of but curiously glowing embers frozen out and locked in place? Still, there’s that perfect hinge that says here, here is where your life swung unhinged magically, a screen door afloat on a gyring river, the same one that escapes twisting through the sacked and abandoned landscape, scarred and sacred as a burned out trailer park where a fat lady with a cane and glass eye knows exactly the price and cost of every known and necessary thing, –and wouldn’t I care for some sweet tea? -as she pirouettes gracefully for one painfully useless eternity and opens just a bit as if I had been expected all along to pass through
I speed, late as usual, to the ceremony thirteen days after your death. You hated my driving. Slow is smooth, you said, again and again, smooth is fast, but I never slowed down.
In your brother’s living room, your white friends sit solemnly, trained by church, while your Indian friends relax and chat quietly, trusting the ritual will go on just fine without them.
Marigolds draping your photo, spot of vermilion on your forehead, the drone of the pandit’s chant: the atheist in you would have hated all of it, but you left. You don’t get to pick.
The pandit says your journey to the afterlife takes a day for you, but a year for us, that finally you were leaving, having lingered these thirteen days. Though I hadn’t felt you there, or at your house, or your memorial. Even my dreams, when I dream of you, are only dreams. Perhaps, as usual, you left early. Lord knows you hate to be late.
Couldn’t you linger just a little longer, just this once? Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Surely you can make up the time.
So Death comes to call; I offer him tea and take his sickle and hide it in the closet. Its handle feels rough on my palm. The foyer smell of cedar chases away the moths from his empty sockets. His robes flutter with butterfly wings. He wears a necklace of hummingbird skulls.
In the kitchen the refrigerator’s hum drowns out his whispered words. I pretend he isn’t talking while I sweeten the tea with lavender honey but birdsong from outside rolls in bitter on my tongue
“In England, Shakespeare had no trouble dying.” Death’s voice rings out razor sharp. I shiver as my bare feet on the tile floor catch February’s chill.
Rummaging in the cupboards, I think Now that’s just swell. Death comes to call and I’m all out of cookies. That’s what happens when you forget to go shopping. I make a note to write a poem later on the back of a grocery list.
“God, that’s just like an American.” Death’s disgust at my lack of hospitality rankles. The overfilled pitcher of nicety grows too heavy for my weakened hands and falls, crashing to bits on the floor.
Like my own Lilliputian minutemen the shards scatter into a circle around him barring the way against his heavy feet while I, light with emptiness levitate over the painted table. Arms crossed, I address my guest:
“And now Mama-san will tell you you presumptuous usurper what’s up: you will take your rough-handled sickle, fluttering robe and ominous whispering, and depart. And you will stay long away.”
Death hangs his bony head, smooth as an egg (his has no cracks, as ours do, for through which birth canal did it ever pass?), already missing the taste of my tea. I tell him I must find out first what can’t be discovered. He laughs. The birds outside sing Hoc opus, hic labor est.
The teacups dance to the sound of his leaving. Pen in my left hand and rolling pin in my right I hear his voice as he strides, resigned, away: “Get to work, girl, and the next time I visit you’ll be glad for the rest.” My refrigerator hums. His parting words: “By the way, I prefer scones.”