Ode to An Afternoon
It began with a woman, her heavy arms, and a small girl
holding a jar of kidney stones toward the light. A single acidic light
illuminating the scene. It began in shadowy outer rooms, the smell
of cigarettes mixing with sauerkraut, and chlordane from the cellar stairs
rising like the invisible dead. It was unknowingly toxic.
There was an expectation of rain, how it would sound on the roof.
With tender gestures, it began, like offering the child a sip of a drink,
smoothing the hair around her ear. It was familial and developed slowly,
like a disease. It entailed a nap, the press of white chenille
against a cheek, dreams in which nothing troubled the dreamer’s brow
then suddenly, inexorably furrowed it. Something had to be removed,
and something saved. It allowed water to fall in separate streams
on two pairs of hands, and, doing its job, it dissolved
like a sandpaper-rough, old-fashioned bar of soap.
You were dying again, this time elegantly
smoking a cigarette.
You’d lift your hand to your mouth then rest
your wrist on a hip beneath
the hospital’s white chenille. Smoke
issued from your lips, drifted past
the window’s mirror, and entered the grandeur
of bridges over black rivers
streaked with light. The ruined mills, invisible
houses crowding hillsides,
seeds brought back from Italy buried deep
in terraced gardens,
even the bus exhaust that rose and subsumed
your personal smoke—everything
seemed to be sucking you into a myth
about being carried across,
though you stayed stroking the hair of the man
who needed your forgiveness
while lifting the other hand you had
to your lips.
The Final Scene
That I can stare at floorboards and listen
to jazz while trying to fathom your body
now in the earth only goes to show
I have enough serotonin or dopamine
to resist throwing open the door
my mind would lock if it could. You
in your good wool navy dress and pearls,
the amethyst rosary arranged
just so. Yellowpale hands, the irremovable
ring from Paris, your knuckle damaged
from years of irrigating a single
wound. Deformity most devoted,
nurse’s wound, finger bone
of a saint. When is synecdoche
true enough? We buried you whole.
I can’t not loiter at the final scene, however
it improvises over your life.