What Blocks Out the Sun
If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve. –– Lao Tzu
Look, the tongue is not mapped, does not pair well
with the drapes. It covers nothing, as nothing
covered the world until the first tongue spoke.
See me in the den with two men from White Haven.
Watch them put on latex gloves, slip my son
into a blue nylon bag. Hear the sound of a zipper,
my wife’s low moans under her throws.
She would not speak for days and only now
can she find the right words. The memories
of him eight year later are thin. My torso expands.
See me move from child’s pose to corpse,
my body’s twister a game of nots, no more,
a sharp taste on the tongue. It does not pair well
with the drapes, the suits I wear, my reputation.
Every night I’m tangled in the blankets,
wrestle with the trappings, the next day’s drudge.
I am an old man with arthritic hips, a bell’s rusted clapper,
a stiff cane. Come lean upon my shoulder.
Place these ashes on my mantel. My body, yours,
more than a shack of trinkets, more than a fortress
of back-slaps. Walk with me a while longer.
Beware the mirror coiling in its frame. Do not admit
that serpent’s tongue. Follow me down the stairway
to a photo, three boys in a rotting tree’s hollow.
Walk with me where the cherry once blossomed.
See what remains we scattered in the garden.
Even now the ants will have their final say.
* * *
Today I found this penny when cleaning
out your room. This one penny.
Stamped the year we found that mole
on your head, and you sixteen.
Uncovered it with a barber’s comb
through hair longer than Lincoln’s.
One mole. A penny’s width and dark
like this copper’s tarnish. No one looks
at pennies anymore, and yet,
I found this one while cleaning.
Mint-marked 2003. When you were
just sixteen. In God We Trusted
your one life after it was discovered,
after that first report ruled it benign,
when the surgeon took clean margins.
Clean, he said, like this penny’s ridges.
We felt giddy then, like little children
with a shiny new penny.
All that hope when your scar was small
and only you could feel it.
That was the year this penny was stamped.
This one penny. The one
I put inside your alabaster jar.
* * *
The light lengthens into the room
and my father listens, for once,
he listens to the story of that last night,
how we hurried home because it was time,
how our friend was sure that he would last
another week, how I said, No, tonight,
I’m sure tonight, how I wheeled him to the door,
how a boy from the deli greeted him,
and he, beyond graciousness
waited for the bed I’d have to assemble,
the one on loan from hospice, the one
he slumped into relieved, glad
to be home, his home one last night.
My father listened, for once, he listened
and I pictured him sitting at the hospital
in Providence, sitting without words
and waiting, his father laboring for each breath,
my father listening for anything
that might make sense, a blessing
no longer withheld and he, finally
acknowledged, so much at stake
in that moment, one man dying,
and another man, trying to listen.