A wife can outlive her husband,
a husband can outlive their son,
by decades. When the gravedigger
digs their grave and the mason creates
their stone, the mason etches
the husband’s name and dates of birth
and death, the wife’s name under the title,
“His Wife,” and her dates of birth
and death, and the son’s name and
his dates of birth and death.
In advance, a wife can arrange
with the mason to have her name
and date of birth etched on her stone.
So, when the wife dies, the mason
can easily add her date of death on.
I sent you my phone number over the prison
email service and you never called me.
You must have run out of quarters. You could
have used nickels, you know, those pay phones
take them, too. So you could have always called.
I was going to congratulate you on beating
the rap and leaving yourself with just one life
sentence. I was going to congratulate you
on trying to beat the rap and appeal your one
life sentence. That showed commitment. That
showed you were committed on getting your
name clear, getting the names of those you
said you never killed cleared.
Now, all I want to say is I’m glad you ran out
of quarters. I’m glad you forgot about nickels.
This has to be the strangest funeral
in recorded history. All of the mourners
are sitting in chairs gathered around to
make a square with rounded corners
and they’re leaning back and they’re
raising their hands and having someone
call on them to speak and they’re speaking
about fucking when they go out to a
party on Saturday.
And the lights are glaring down and the heater’s
been cranked up and the door is wide open but
inching shut and the windows are barred
and the curtains aren’t drawn.
And they haven’t hired a rabbi nor monk nor
priest nor preacher nor nun alike to exult the
departing soul and there’s an eulogy around
that’s been written nor heard.
And they’ve propped me up on a desk at the far left corner of the room and they’ve forgotten to build a coffin around me.
His corset resembles a pair of tighty-whities
pulled too high. His belt is undone, his fly
is down. His white dress shirt has been
peeled back, revealing nearly his whole chest,
leaning toward the left.
His chest is only slightly covered by his right
hand. The scars run in all directions,
undercutting his right nipple, bisecting
along his diaphragm, slanting across
his intestines. His eyes peer out,
toward somewhere beyond the ceiling,
from shadows falling over his eye sockets.
It’s 1969, and somehow, he’s still alive.
Photo by David Montgomery/Getty Images
I heard nothing.
I saw lips move along the words of an oath
oft-spoken by men we are told are
far greater than ourselves,
and I saw crowds. There were crowds onstage
with those lips, leaning forward to whisper
“congratulations.” And there were crowds
under the stage, lined back away from
the stage, of men and women who had
gathered to salute those lips and
the flag those lips lay in front of,
to chant praise for this day and the years
to come that this day makes way for.
Meanwhile, I sat at home and did nothing.
I did hear a garbage truck pass, a fire truck,
one minivan and then another.
I wish I could eat that
gormless smile of yours
off your face.
You go around spreading
your lips out, then you wave
your hands at your peers
to get them to extend theirs
for a high-five,
and you throw your head
back until your occipital
lobe collides into your vertebrae
and then you yell from the
back of your throat,
“It’s all good!”
and you snatch their hand
I think if I went ahead
and plucked your lips
off your face, they would
finally see it’s not good
and take their hands back.
Today is not the day for pumpkin pie,
light as air, lapping the tongue in
sliding whipped cream. Today is not
the day for sugar, mixed with butter
or medicine or otherwise. Sweetness
will come again someday.
Today is the time for cherries,
bright red, sour, tart, a pit as
hard as a fist just inside. Today is the
time for bite, for fruit picked by hand
from seeds sewn years ago, delivered
to dry, bitter lips.