There is more of grave than of gravy, I said,
turning Dickens’ line on its head,
a reference to my father three score dead
when I dreamed him alive last night,
alive but with skin peeling, as if from
a wasting disease, but beneath that disease
deep joy, what with being alive
again, even within the bounds of dream
a smile in the eye and face proclaimed
his presence so long ago known, cut
off suddenly by death in the night
in his own bed that failed to support his life.
No whining, no crying, I quick admonish.
That was then; this is now, and he lives.
Toward what end this lively visit, this gift
given without the asking? All of that remains
to be seen. Meanwhile, I write it down.
Unlike the mattress of years past, this paper
supports his life re-given, and I can read it
out loud, as I will: His name––Edmond Thomas.
Mommy, come and look at this,
my son called from the back door stoop.
I can’t. I’m busy. What have you got?
His answer lost in the distance between us
I called out louder, What have you got?
A bee. He’s walking on my cheek. See?
Blinded by dishes piled up to the brink
of my mind mired down in mashed potato
I called from the sink, Probably a fly,
and chose not to walk to the stoop
where he sat waiting. In that moment
of meanness, the bee stung; starving
children bit the dust, the nails in our house
began to rust, and Jack Benny died.
And my son cried out, pouring tears,
healing rain, onto the infinite desert of sin.
You chew the apple like a little beaver
turning it rapidly in your corn-cob fingers.
“It gone,” you hand the core to me
and seal the memory of you at the river
in your baseball hat, fishing from the bank
where beavers have chewed the birch I balance
on watching you, my son, my beaver boy
consuming the day with white and perfect teeth.
My son and I toast marshmallows
over the flames of old love letters
into the ashes
of picnics past in green fields
streamed through with sepia-toned
water, clear in the way of old photos.
In the dreams she doesn’t know
the hugeness of what is about to strike her down.
Unsure myself of the timing of it
and whether or not I should tell her now
I don’t. Ever. I only hoard
the feeling of tenderness toward her to myself.
The tentative nature of our swapped roles––
I with the terrible knowledge, she not knowing
I solicitous, walking her
towards the edge, the brink of dream
where, Dig! I order myself.
Make a way for her to the other kingdom.
I was afraid at first of the young hart
coming at me with his head down
in what looked like an attitude of attack.
The woods behind him, the field behind me
I could have turned and run
but I stood my ground.
He pawed his ground. I ran to the side
and he, seeing my move, came after me
and I, seeing his, now ran, noticing
for the first time that it was night.
While a million stars distracted me
he butted me gently with his small
horns, and I sensed us lifting off the ground.
We were flying. I let fall my drawn-up legs
loosened my grip on his soft neck
and held it loosely in a friendly way
and like him, looking straight ahead
took in the night, loved the night,
was one with the night, and seeing
somehow those below moving
in the field we flew above. I wanted
to tell my mother and searched the faces
for sight of hers, and there she was
looking up and smiling.
While clothes are drying on the line
I write a line and then another about
hiding underwear behind the sheets
on the front line. Victorian secrets are
kept in original ways, washed and dried
folded and stored in the linen closet
upstairs. When they’re hung on the line
for all to see, they’re called “dirty laundry,”
and so often, you know, they have to do
with stories of having been done to, so
you understand why the underwear
is masked by clean sheets. It’s Monday.