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It comes in waves

Waves

The morning my dad died
I sobbed in my wife’s arms,
she held me like a child
as I shook and shivered
and left my snot smeared
in her hair, cold and wet,
dripping down my beard.

It was like I awoke
washed in waves of tumult,
all these thoughts rushing me
from all sides, the inverse
of the eye of storms.

He died while we slept,
and he didn’t visit my dreams,
like so many stories I’ve heard,
there was just the room,
the light-filtered drapes,
the furniture, the sounds
of people in other rooms
carrying on with their
ordinary lives.

It’s stupid how guilty I felt
for crying my tears,
wondering why this hurt
so much more
than other deaths,
wondering why I found it
so difficult at times
to just pick up my fucking phone
and listen to his voice
on the other side,

our paths seemed to diverge
like planets and moons
losing their gravity
in ever-widening orbits,
entering each other’s space
less and less over the years,
though born through the same
hot fire of experience,

and now, I’ll carry this moment
until my ribs cease
their own rise and fall,
holding my hand
over your chest
to feel your failing heart
hammering in the heated confines
of your body being outgrown,
and if I decide thoughtlessly
one day to pick up my phone
the only voice I’ll be able to hear
is my own.

For my dad

How you choose to be good

You don’t know this boy
but you love his mother.
The interior of your car
smells like warm leather
and the rolls of Certs
you keep stashed in your pockets.
You picked the boy up from his house
to stay at your place
while you take his mother out of town
to a casino somewhere
just over the state line.
The car is a Grand Marquis,
white, with a supercharged engine
taken from a police cruiser,
its power vibrates through the seats
like a giant cat’s purr
always on the verge of a roar.
You don’t know this boy,
but you know that his mother
will soon be your wife,
and soon you’ll all live
under the same roof.
So when the boy says to you,
he’s never had someone
he’d be proud to call his dad,
and he wonders if you’d mind
if he called you that,
you should simply smile
and slap a hand across his knee,
and say, Sure, son, sure,
that’d be just fine by me.

grieving the loss of a father

GRIEVING

I’ve been wearing your shirt
for six days straight,
trying to meld your memory
to my flesh, a tattoo of plaid,
big knuckles, and Obsession
splashed through a gray beard.

It isn’t working, I feel the room
darkening where I kept your voice
like a phone recording
of a birthday wish
carried further and further away,
until the only sound is shadow,
and scrape of palms against walls,
scouring every shapeless surface
for any familiar frame,
perhaps a locked window clasp
that if loosened, would let some light in.

I can’t rebuild your ephemeral form,
instead I hold it in abandoned objects,
a few clothes, a silver half dollar
melted down and crafted
into a wedding band,
some dusty mandolin strings
strung to a dusty mandolin,
and the black leather jacket
you once let me wear
when I pretended
I was a reservoir dog.

I find myself continually surprised
at how empty I feel,
I’ve become a self-peeling onion
of diminishment,
my mouth a circular inhale
of silent shock
with every layer gone
revealing only more absence
of the space you took up
inside my human shell,
and when all these levels are husked
with only my skinless self
standing in this room
of memories draped in sheets,
I’ll either find myself reborn
or I’ll find myself a bed
among all these blankets
my body once warmed.

Poem for Tony Hoagland, RIP

Fuck Cancer
~for Tony Hoagland

I could say fuck cancer
but cancer never seems
to get fucked,
and all these repeated incantations
reverberating in kitchens
and hospital walls
like backwards Hail Marys
or curses of wind
expelled when stubbing your toe
on the dark corner
of the coffee table,
in the end, they’re just words,
creature comforts like chocolate cake
or favorite characters in a sitcom,
and it’ll never stop,
despite the stadiums filled
with pink scarves, pink socks,
pink shoelaces and gloves,
the pink will disappear from the faces
of the ones you love,
they’ll slowly turn an ashy gray,
waxy synthetic, almost mannequin-like,
only their eyes will remain
glossy and wet, quarters in a creek bed,
shining up at you on the bank,
someone so stupid,
you believed sometimes
coins carried wishes,
and even if they don’t,
people keep throwing them in,
so many coins, so many scattered prayers,
the stream shimmers like a disco ball,
and even if you died right now
there’s something beautiful
about that, something disorienting,
a virtual vertigo of the senses
spinning in a captive body,
when death’s black jaw yawns
so close to the ear
its breath raises the fine hair,
that whisper of finality
like trickled drips down an IV line,
a sound not unlike a fountain
found in a Buddhist shrine,
so hard to discern the difference
from the echocardiogram
and the scribble of a poet’s pen,
perhaps why it was once a custom
to place coins over the eyes of the dead.

Universe in a nutshell poem for Stephen Hawking

Organism
~for Stephen Hawking

What if every life is just an unwinding,
an unraveling thread of spirals,
branching out by years and days and choices
in wider and wider arcs until too large
to be sustained, each person their own
universe, an expanding golden ratio
of Fibonacci arms reaching for other arms
of other universes like brain cells
illuminating electrical clouds of REM sleep.

First born, the spiral is tight and small,
an infant fist closing around a mother’s finger,
but as the child grows the universe unfurls
and something gets lost, old connections fade,
the stars at the center begin their inevitable collapse,
family and friendships become occasional phone calls,
intermittent trips home for funerals or birthdays
or weddings to strangers,
and so the cluster of brightness at everyone’s core
begins to dim, and this we call dying.

If only there was a way to share the light
without sacrifice, to keep every star burning
like a perpetual fission furnace of love,
to hold hot coals in palms without being burned,
to tell every person every day that they are oxygen
and each breath is a flame, each heart essential
to the beat of the next to be named,
perhaps this cycle of expansion unto retraction
could balance itself out, find an equilibrium
where instead of competing for space to grow,
we allow the other to overlap our own
and these entangled galaxies
to become one,
just one set of breathing lungs.