By Melissa Cundieff-Pexa

My daughter has eaten ice cream almost every day

for a year in the garden next to your stone house,

twirling under its metal bees. I don't know


if we ever saw you from the store window, walking down

your staircase, driving to work, coming home again.

If I had to guess, we did.


If a tree you know well falls in the night, it's like a horse

with his head and neck down, drinking from a bucket,

his tongue dipped in meditation, not about to give over

to a fly, the sound of its body


spread in the air, two bodies glued to themselves

while the rest of the world sleeps in the dark rooms which erase

the episode of the horse drinking,

allowing the fly to devour him.


That was in the details of your nightmare:

the stray dog you kind of loved, eating deeply

from your hand was suddenly hit by a car

and spun into the early sky like a pocketful

of bright, smalls coins. It's hard to say


why the dream was even there,

or how it became like a worm

which grew, inside you, from almost nothing.


I went to the deli next to your house today.

The crepe myrtles are blooming. Nothing has changed.

Your house is the same. The women and children here


are still beautiful . As if to politick this space

left by your body like a pregnancy

pain, I looked for you in the details:


the mosaic facing east looks like you,

its folding and unfolding

hands reminiscent of flame,

where the boy with burned skin and cracked lips


reaches into the river's dark loam, retrieves

a glass bottle, a bottle cap, a pocket watch,

and a hook. But of course,

you are not made from treasures, or anything


but stolen air.


James, you were the thin, redheaded boy who

wouldn't expose your chest for fear it would

make you virginal in the eyes of everyone.

You were the boy sliding your hand into the river,


soaking your shirt cuff for the walk home. No one knew

you could be so nonchalant. One day you stripped naked

and sunburned so badly your skin peeled away as if

your body was spread over

with maple leaves.


You had the last word, whoever you were.

You, uncounting a row of cars until the parking lot

was an open cage, the familiar things of the neighborhood

gone through its door—


a stray dog crossed the street to follow a bird straight

into the sky, just there, it was so early in the morning.

The bird, you thought, was an idle witness

to a brand new absence.


Maybe you were consoling the neighborhood; the same

some of us grew up in that becomes as we grow old

a cancer of windows flush against lace.

But I won't talk about the dog not hit

the morning you killed yourself,


when you got out of bed,


unspoke your first words,

unwrapped yourself for the blackened bardo—


You were the bare-chested boy again:


thin, easy as ash,

shedding his first and last fires.

Melissa Cundieff-Pexa is an MFA candidate in poetry at Vanderbilt University and head poetry editor for Nashville Review. Her most recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review and Fairy Tale Review. She lives in Nashville with her daughter, Wren Reveille. 

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