She wrapped him carefully
in an old blanket and several
sections of the Times and put him
in the basket with the broken handle
she found out behind the Safeway
near the culvert that was home
until the rains came.
She placed him among the weeds
and beer bottles, where the river’s smell
licked the wicker, and she hoped
he would be found quickly.
She envisioned him at the right hand
of Kings, holding forth on all
manner of life and death,
princes seeking his insight,
hanging on his words. He
would not be like others
dying at the hand, whim of wealth.
He was found a week later
lodged against a grate
at the intake of the power station
and placed in a far corner
of the city cemetery under
a simple stone “Baby Doe.”
He said, “I survived the war,
was up to my armpits in water
wading through the night
through the rice plants
that would never bear grain
once we called in the orange.
I walk through minefields,
the noise a deafening silence
since the only sound that mattered
was the click that shouted death
You think Ii have issues now
and in your mind I certainly do
but you my issues didn’t go away
like Jamie’s, he heard that click and a moment
later his issues were gone, and the moon
was painted blood red that night
and it inhabits my dreams still.
When they lowered my grandmother’s casket
into the sodden earth, there wan’t
a dry eye, shoulder or leg, around.
She would’ve laughed aloud,
her children always too busy for a visit
now soaked to the skin
in a cold, windy downpour, all but me,
the one she chose to conduct the service,
the funeral director behind me
with the oversize umbrella, ensuring
the words of prayer and departure
were dry enough to read, washed
only by my tears, held back, unholdable,
the clunk of the first shovel of dirt
on the simple pine box still echoing.
My sister only wanted a horse
an my parents thought they could solve
that dilemma with a pony at her fifth birthday party
where she would get all the extra rides,
her friends and playmates be damned.
Like most great parental plans,
this one was doomed to failure,
and failure marched front and center
as they learned from the pony was loaded
back into the trailer and my sister
tried to tie herself to the trailer
with ribbon from her gift wrap.
She was never good with knots,
even when she died at 52, the cancer
having ravaged her one organ at a time,
but even in her waning days, she
whine to our mother that all she ever wanted
was a horse, then winked at me, staring
around her hospital room, since we both knew
there was a pony in there somewhere.
We have decided to skip the viewing
to say our farewells in thought
without needing to see her face
frozen in the morticians best attempt
at placidity, erasing the anger, the fear,
the frustration, the pain that made
leaving easier for her than remaining.
We will say the prayers, most of them,
she with fervent hope that they are heard,
I as a member of the chorus.
Some will invoke both the father and son
and spirits will be moved,
and I will reflect, will listen politely
and hope the universe is receptive
to one who is now in transit.
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.