Imagine being nineteen again, still pimply and awkward, parroting a script from behind a plexiglass wall: Phone number, please, you say, and imagine her fingers, typing one in. You hear the click, clicking of keys on the keypad, sickening, music of the dead, you think, you’re dying.
You’re maybe a hundred pounds, just a little thing, whose mask covers two thirds your fragile face, and they buried you at the door, the enforcer, instructed to say— This door, not that, and arrows, follow them, follow them, do like I do, with this cover, my voice smothered, my soul—
I’m sure I was just standing there, leaning over my cart, watching my daughter shop for cards, when I heard her voice— not the enforcer, but a fellow peruser, like me, another blank face, masked, breathless, breathlessly, you’re going the wrong way, she said, you’re not following the arrows, she said, and her bony, dead finger pointed down along the ground. I followed it, and sure enough, she was right about me: Rule breaker, careless spreader of germs. The shame, the shame, she would have me feel, for facing the wrong way, disobeying.
Fuck that. My latest mantra. Fuck that and fuck that, too. Even as I do it. Where’s the humanity in this? I want to scream. But who would hear me? We’re too busy saving lives by not living, buttressed as we are behind masks, She doesn’t even realize I’m not smiling, Or, does she? Maybe there’s something of, fuck this shit, in my eyes, the only part of me she can see, if she tries to see, but she doesn’t.
The mask isn’t merely the covering for a mouth, a nose, — it’s blanket, too, as in a morgue. Covering the dead. And I know, my time is coming soon enough, but I’m not dead yet, covered as I am, prepared for burial. Yet, still pounding on coffins, trying to pull back the heavy veil, cursing my heart away,
The lasting sting of salt, zero point three milligrams per tear, yet, still they drop, tapped into an ocean where I swim, like a child, through the salty grief of letting go.
She’s gone with the quiet rains, too gentle to wash away the grief of my empty hands.
Even now, I know I’ll look back and wonder why it was so hard to let go. Time will blunt emotion, stunt the onslaught of memory, the true knowing of what was lost, now, so fresh, but soon distant, as gone becomes gone, and life, unable to stop, moves on.
Sentient soul, to sentient soul, he realized her panic when he came barreling around the corner; sundown, and their eyes met for just that second, she decided to run. He’d forgot to honk his horn, thought she’d made it, then the thud, like the snap of twig, a broken limb, the doe, three-legged, ran down the ravine. He was amazed at her speed, dismayed by his deed, that couldn’t be undone, or lightened, or made right. In fact, he knew there was nothing left except she would die. He wondered at that, and how death arrives when we least expect, and then, the frantic, lonesome search for a quiet place to lay your broken body down, and the terrible waiting: last fear, last tight breath, a final severance from this world on what had been a beautiful night.
We are veterans of dead bones, products of love, and its loss, memorizers of last breaths, and what letting go feels like. The front line of memory gives way, what we held in our hands, dissolves, like water on clay– muddy water, returning to muddy ground, then dust; it is a fate that awaits all of us: empty arms, encircled of sacred air, grasping at remnants of what we valued there.
Another day, I’ve collected
over eighteen thousand
now, but none like this:
the birds have returned,
and the clouds hang low,
like the mist of what is
unknown, and I don’t care
to know, because I gave up
predicting the future
when I realized
I was always wrong.
The only thing, now,
is this poem, and how
it pulls me toward confession.
You see, a life recedes;
place a bottle in the ocean
and watch it slowly
carried away by the waves;
that is me and you,
and this poem.