by David Graham
--to Jean, one year dead
For some time, though, he struggled for more to hold on to. "Are you sure you have told me everything you know about his death?" he asked. I said, "Everything." "It's not much, is it?" "No," I replied, "but you can love completely without complete understanding."
--Norman Maclean. A River Runs Through It.
A year since I drove the thousand miles
it took to face your death. You were dust
before I got there, little different
from grit in the interstate wind,
ashpits smoking in backyards, rest stop tiles
smeared with grease and cracker crumbs.
You were ashes in a box, pills in the trash.
The trance of wheel-hum turned
and turned me away from that day,
away from the moonclear night
with its starry jazz, the glow
of emptied parking lots in Akron
and Youngstown. Turned me again
through thirty years of glimpse
and shrug, angers out of nowhere,
laughter equally so--yet brought me
no closer to you for all
the circus-swirl in my head.
Radio static resolved, near Harrisburg,
to a melody you loved--ice
on my tongue, fire in the blood.
I always thought there would be time
for one more pot simmering
on the stove, one more midnight
cracked open like a beer. Your
last words: "I'll call you right back."
A year now. Why should this May
astonish more or less than your last?
The trillium's up, lilacs and apple blossoms
fading fast, goldfinches stitching
the air tight. We knew summer
would come, then fall's brisk business,
winter with its bleached light,
now spring again in its watery glints,
its bluejay blare trumpeting summer.
We always knew the great mud-
and jewel-encrusted wheel
would roll us away from you, by day,
by season, by year--knew it well
before your bones consumed themselves
and your soul lapsed into morphine coma,
vegetal breath. We couldn't know
the strangeness of the turning.
The odd blessing of meals with
the gathered clan: you would have
savored that kitchen clamor, delicious
choice of side dish and placemat, reels
or ragas to throb in the background.
Heavy mugs lifted in storied air--you
would have giggled at the surge and lilt
of accents, your Dublin brother-in-law
all dickied up like the dog's dinner, a cousin
mad for Cheetohs. You would have flit
from kitchen to porch with a fresh bowl
of dip, and said very little.
Well, you're silent now. But no more so
this year than some others I could name.
Ah, we'll never finish the six-year quarrel
your cancer interrupted without resolving.
That mystery burned with your bones.
Even unto death you preferred
your chatter practical, chemo cocktails
CAT scans and bloodwork, all the apparatus
of hope, forgive me, without its soul.
I know if you could hear these words
you would swirl away like a scatter
of petals in the wind. How little
your death has changed that. Did the wheel
turn less heavily for you at that
still point? Would you cry to see
your sister cry, slipping on your coat
now washed clean of your scent?
Nothing's ever over.
Today the crows in cemetery treetops
harangue the mowers below, readying
the plots for Memorial Day. Yesterday
workmen hosed poison over the too-lush grass,
and all the dandelions wilted and withered.
I know the turning facts all too well--
gravestones will weather smooth in time,
will crack and crumble to dust, but the weeds
turn up each year brighter than flame.
-originally published in Eclectica 7.4 ((October/November 2003.)