Ambrose Bierce walked into Mexico
one day, and was never seen again.
That was surprising enough, but
more so, he left no epitaph, the least
you would expect from a writer.
In retrospect, perhaps he was
the smarter one, for I know othersl
who have spent countless hours
trying to devise the perfect epitaph,
knowing they never quite got it right.
I almost fell victim to that trap,
but avoided it the moment that
I realized that regardless of what
I might so carefully select, it is
my heirs who will have the final say.
Merriam-Webster declared me an orphan
yesterday morning, when my father
slipped away from his morphine dreams.
Some would argue I cannot be an orphan
at my age, that is a sanctuary reserved
for children, but I am long past
admitting my age, and my behavior
gives no lie to my claim of childhood.
I will continue to miss him, for his dementia
stole him memory by memory over the years,
and I was left to fill the void
with stories of my childhood, remembered
and imagined, to him there was no difference.
I can now fully mourn my birth mother,
gone for years before I found her, and
my birth father, who I can now claim and
at the same time assume dead, more
a commentary on my advancing age
than any reflection on him, save
in the mirror and the faces of my grandchildren.
And now the two men who adopted me
and the woman they really wanted,
and I are no longer part of the same package.
Years later on, having walked
calmly away from my former faith,
I am left still pondering
where you find the words
to describe, to teach the unspeakable,
and how you use them to reach
children who have no right to know
the unspeakable, but who must,
lest they later speak it.
It was a generation ago for me, two
for them, three now for my own
grandchildren but the losses
they know are staggering: Las Vegas,
9/11, Manchester, Sandy Hook,
and on and on and on and on
and how do you help them grasp
the number six million, 10 million, when
they have but ten fingers,
shielding their eyes from the horror.
They lie in the field uprooted
slowly desicating in the harsh sun,
the fruit they might have borne
trapped in the dying flower, the seed
of another generation denied.
It was not supposed to be like this,
the sun should have fed them,
the soil nourished their souls,
their stalks growing thicker, drawing
ever more life from the earth..
But here they now lie, torn away
left to wither, and we mourn them,
and the loss of what might have been.
The question how we or those like us
could so callously disregard life,
and know that this part of our nature
will never be easily overcome.
What do you say
on the loss of a child?
We sat in the lounge
drinking a vile potion
from a hollowed pineapple
for no reason.
We wandered the tunnels
clowns in bedlam.
We lay together
on a mattress
on the floor and listened
my arms around you
both, but sleep
came slowly and we talked
until night ran from
the encroaching sun.
I can feel her soft blond hair
and see her smile
as we walked
hand in hand in hand
along the abandoned
of what might be.
As I struggle with sleep
and with a new day
I can hear the tape end
snapping at the end
of the ever spinning reel
wanting only to hold your hand
and stroke your hair.
First appeared in RE:AL The Journal of Liberal Arts Vol. 23, Issue 2, 1998
He was quite tall for then, even
tall for now, and that hat must have
added almost a foot, a mortician
likely as not, if not a lawyer.
He wrote eloquently, even if his voice
was not quite of his stature, his words
always had impact, digging in the
gray and blue bled soil of Pennsylvania.
Today would be eleven score
and nineteen and I doubt the forefathers
would recognize the creation or want to.
7800 dead, 27,000 wounded, all watered
the Pennsylvania Farms with tears,
and today the soil has been given over
to stark down signs telling us
what they think we ought to know,
devoid of pain, devoid of impact.
Eleven score and nineteen
and we say to those knocking
at our door, “not now, we’re full,
there is no room at this inn
for the likes of you and yours.”