In some cultures, clocks are stopped
when there’s a death in the family.
My wristwatch insists on ticking.
How to write an elegy,
at the top of the page.
Consider whom to address—
the deceased or the bereaved—
what verb tense to use,
whether you can immerse
yourself in the language of grief
without flailing.
How can you not be present while tonight’s fireworks
cheer up the sky like a young girl’s pom poms,
like jackstones whirling before the starry descent?
She hurled the ball and stones
into a trash can years ago,
rejecting her loss the way
she refused the blindfold,
the bluff. Here lies the girl
who turned the pages of a book
while we salvaged her toys
and stood still behind doors,
not wanting our bodies
to be touched and identified.
Between Christmas and the cemetery
was a long night, a phone ringing in the still of it,
a voice quivering to the cusp
of a goodbye, a gunshot muffled by tinted windows,
pillowed dreams. Here’s where it ends,
says her limp hand. Here’s the lengthy epilogue
where the rest of us grope for a lamp each night
as if it were an explanation, begging her to emerge
from the shadows of our interrupted sleep.
Since you were a master of the angle, the frame,
let’s play a game. Use this scene to shoot
an episode called How easily guilt festers
into blame. Would you pan across the chapel
and zoom in on your ex-lovers muttering
in their separate corners? There she is,
your last beloved, hesitating by the door.
There’s our uncle, blowing cigarette smoke
in her face, a signal for us to walk out.
Whom would you have called the culprit/s?
Fact: more people die
during the holiday season
than at any other time of the year.
Evidence: other mourners filling up
this hallway, that bathroom.
In the next chapel: men guffawing,
keeping their dead company
with a bottle of gin, getting drunker
by the minute in another dialect.
I march up to them. Let me in
on the joke, I say. They look
like they’ve just seen a ghost.
Endings are my specialty. What keeps me going
is not faith, but curiosity. Here’s to us who see
the stories through, whose victories are few,
who wish to shake her awake in the casket,
to slap the hands of strangers’ children
pointing to where the bullet
had burrowed its way in.
A tumor lodges its way into the head, like a bullet.
A bullet lodges its way into the head, like a tumor.
We were taught to read well: if a character suffers
frequent headaches, they must be critical. If a gun
is introduced, it must go off before the story ends.
Such eager students, obeying the rules of the narrative.
What would you like us to revise
now that you are simply a she,
was? Shall we say you joined us
in the next game two decades ago?
That you believed in an elsewhere
with popcorn and front row seats
to the rest of our lives? On this side
of the screen, we count the seconds
down to the new year, while fireworks
keep falling from the face of the sky
and new ones keep shooting up
like thrown jackstones before being
picked up and kept warm in someone’s
hand, one tiny piece at a time.