In a matter of seconds the ants will
wreck this new jar of honey, left open on
the stove beside a half eaten rhubarb pie.
A moment of distraction while I imagine you
dead in Phoenix and struggle to recall the
song you insisted you’d shown me. Though
I was certain it had always been mine.
Nothing about ghost you will scare me
more than that night I watched you play
cards, betting cloves against percocets,
and I felt an untested knot of longing
tighten across my throat; the unique
panic of spinning in the wake of your
list. Now you have fallen backwards
into the soft and permanent yonder,
your tired heart rounding its bend. You
have loosened to slack your lanky limbs
and soon the eddies will settle. Tomorrow
I’ll wake up in my hot skin and, likely, the
day after, and the day after that again
to ponder how I scar each finished
moment with a piece of tape and a
name scrawled across it in pen. Which,
honestly, eases the worry of your quick exit.
The event of you growing anecdotal and the
tangle of you combed smooth. Your albino
dingo. The specter in the corner of your
room. You beer thief. You lazy lover. You
once said I could never get the genius of a
particular lick and, boy, were you right.
But in the violently silent aftermath I
stretched into my bare curves like a
patient river. Like a river full of purpose
and potential. Before I let the music in my
mouth be replaced by the prayer of your people.
Before I began to measure my grace on a scale that
was not my own, that song I was shown became just
another indelible thumbprint. A dime sized bruise
left behind one afternoon made of clumsy grips and
stripping while the record played out and the breeze
picked up and the day’s fever was finally broken.
I have only ever touched three dead bodies. Each with my index finger tracing the middle proximal bone, past the knuckle, stopping at the end of the capitate of the right hand laid gently over the left. There is something about cold skin that renders the body ageless. I remember that my brother, not even twenty, felt as old as my father at 49. And that poor cadaver in between; she could have been in her sixties, the skin over her ribs peeled neatly back. With her I had to strain so hard to tune out the nervous and brutal chatter of other students. I later laid my hand across my father’s breast bone as well, thumb along the sternum, fingers spread over his ribcage. He was dressed in his temple clothes and they were so white; my hand like a tea stain upon them. I felt my own heart stutter and understood, finally, the futility of a deep longing for a thing that can never, ever be. I wanted to believe it was a brave and loving gesture, but really it’s just so difficult to give and receive love from the dead. Before he had even gone we had already begun the systematic transfer of our affection to the space he occupied in memories and stories. Such as it is with a long illness; you have nothing but the fleetingness of time.
I have a young daughter who explores dead things. She pores over each squirrel and chicken. Sometimes through a scrim of tears, though it happens less and less frequently. In part, she seems coldly eager to understand the lifelessness of a thing that once scampered or preened about. But she’s also taking her first tentative steps to peer into the face of her own inevitable passing. I admire her courage. There is very little space left over in me for reverence, but for her I’m still capable of a private awe. For a week in September I watched her navigate her father’s complicated nature following 24 months of absence. Two years so saturated with longing, I could have wrung out time and made a salty lake of desire in our back yard. When he finally arrived she was exact in her loving gestures. She was precise in her grief when he left. Sometimes, if I’m being honest, I regret how vulnerable I am to her losses. Before her, I too could determine how much I was willing to unravel, how much love I would pour out and at which intervals. Now I round out my days watching her speed down the road with her breakable bones and delicate membranes, my heart somewhere in my throat.