His Last Apartment
I lifted the windows in every room, forcing traffic
exhaust into the lungs of his former
life. Next to his unmade bed, the ironing
board was draped with shirts ready
for pressing. It was a day like today, Hemingway’s
Farewell to Arms open on wrinkled
sheets. I regret altering that stopped
clock, caught air and set stage awaiting
an entrance. Momentarily, I undo in my head
the undoing of his home and don’t
sort and pack his life into boxes.
The dishes were done, dry in the rack. Empty
green bottles lined up behind
a closet door. Dewberries and meat in the icebox, wine
waiting on the counter, plums
ripening in a paper bag. If only I could enter
those rooms now that I know a little more
or less—I might re-live his last
afternoon, know with my body not the name
but the sensation
of his pain—lie in his death
bed, read the last page
he read, play the Coltrane
and Bird he stacked on
the turntable, look out windows
open into light
behind dirt-streaked, watery
glass that tricks the eye.
Still blocks away when it began to pour
at dusk, my fingers pressed
thighs through a threadbare crimson
hand-me-down sewn back countless
times, first by grandmother
then me, its white, curling vines
of miniature buds or elaborate hearts
ripping at the seams. She
wore it with stockings, pumps,
pearls; I wore it barefoot
in my twenties, a strand of worn
leather doubled at my wrist.
A forties pattern, she sewed it in the fifties
for a niece’s quick wedding then decades
of snapshots with a Brownie—births, masses,
assassinations, graduations, a war
that wouldn’t end until it stole
a nation of boys and my father;
she wore it for the drug store and study club, lunar
landings, impeachments and hospital visits
but never a funeral. Crimson too bright,
she saved it for the living.
As the sudden storm came down hard, I knew
Marion’s old dress couldn’t take
the weight of rain
and I couldn’t let her go, having kept her
here, sewing back the last
fabric of her days. Her being
made a body that made
this body that wore
her dress one more day. Under
the gas lamp next to her apple green
house, two hands
clutching at seams, fists
tight on her memory,
her world fell away
and I let it.
Interview with a Combat Photographer / 2
Why did you pack a black rubber bullet into your suitcase?
How did you get it? A Belfast street—walking quickly,
running from the jail? Am I to speak for the dead?
This is my inheritance? Two suitcases stuffed with puzzle pieces?
Are there no instructions? No signed statement?
Only clues—scraps of paper and fading
photos? Tell the story of this heavy bullet
in my hand. Did it hit a man?
A boy? Tell me about the drug
that is war. Here, I will angle the fan in your direction,
bring more ice for your drink. Let me help
with that tricky latch. Here are some negatives.
Bar napkins. A few medals. Where
would you like to start? This photo—waiting for the airlift?
Your bandaged, bloody knee and open face?
I’m not too young, not too young to hear your stories.
Now, I’m older than you, eight years older than you
when you died. I’ve seen the rubber bullet’s wound,
its tumor like a hard black plum.
Dad, we have the long, August afternoon. Everyone’s gone.
The phone’s on silent. I will turn the recorder back on.
Last time, I was just a kid and never asked much.
That night, you asked if I was mad at you, mad
at the past—I lied as you silently wept. But the only time
I ever saw you cry, you had the courage to look back.
Here’s a fresh glass, already sweating.
We are recording. Speak, father.
When that first winter without you
lost its hold, and the spell of loss
I spent a life fearing
could not be broken,
the old, abandoned farm drank
a season of melting,
evaporating northern storms
until the sun bleached bone
of a cow’s skull stared
out of a meadow’s thick mud.
What then dared,
once again, push
from beneath the dirt,
pressing buds upward
from sighing roots?
I want to know
what the earth knows:
how to greet death
by taking it into my body
like a slow but necessary meal.
I want to learn
from vines that embroider
old bone with flesh
of leaves—fat hearts and spades
circling against and through skull.
I will place my blooms
where eyes once were
and press bright shoots
in every direction I turn.
Imagine loss—a space
And death—a good feast
the earth wants
and leaves no evidence of,
except a rampant,
We mean to change; we long to turn the stone.
But like the drunk or tripper who finds answers
and a path through wallpaper’s patterned vines,
we forget by morning. Your musk unlocks
me every time, as if enough nights spent
between your breast and ear hold their own cure.
I’ve no regrets, I say, though unnamed
parts of us die each day. Our groves run deep,
my sweet one! A million small deaths
and dying cells don’t care: I write
instead of leaving; a gambler who lingers
at the table, betting everything, believes.
The air thick and sweet with secret
flowering, she runs from echoes,
their words in her head. Just ten, she believes
she can outrun anything. Behind
the house, woods signal
summer—the greens have already deepened, hiding brown
bones. Her feet beat the ground
suddenly unsettling leaves
and dark birds lick the air
as they lift from every branch.
Slowed to a stop, she sees
at her feet—a single wing
like lit night, rain slick street or sheen of coal,
obsidian, Mama’s silky Spanish fan, shining
pupil, moonlight sharp against the sea.
Her wing-filled hand holds
a message she needs but knows to hide. Dark
totem pressed heart-side between her ribs and arm,
with a sharp inhale
she walks toward the call of her name.
to the top of the page