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.