or The Face in the Window"
So the concentrated mourning days
are past, your body that released you
as I watched the room fill with soft light,
and the pillow that supported your last
turning to peer out on this shrinking world
our eyes before you eased away, and the
dark liquid that encrusted your lungs with
its sticky film and erupted from the hole
that was your mouth, your voice that
seemed to fall and break like a tiny bird,
that soothed and then was stopped in mid
flight, all these have accompanied me
the three months since your death. And
what has emerged in this region of no
choice and no return is a knowledge
of your deepening, widening life.
Like roots sprouting from the wooden box
where you lie, reaching down, stretching
outward, new perceptions of you my mother
appear on this black and finished slate.
Why didn't I bring a sweater? It's cold here,
I should remember, I'm afraid to stop for any
physical discomfort. I want to see my drama
as she perceived it, her warning as I ran outside,
his motor running. Did she envision a future crash,
a marriage interrupted by news of the missing,
headlights searching for signs? She knew I was reckless,
that I entered his car, enclosed her unheeded alarm
in a place only I might come back to, sorry.
Am I? Now that she's gone, he's gone, and the day
returns stark and sunny. Nothing else so total as
the memory of her face in consternation, set against
a window as I'm off, about to embark on sorrow.
But it was never really like that, I never loved him
as I love the man I married, never thoughtlessly gave
him my hand or rejected her rule that what we have
must be preserved. I only acted against her premise
a woman must freeze the heat inside her, and freed it
with kisses, near a mountain, in the car, cold.
Four weeks have passed now. The details are no
less blurred or clear than on that Tuesday
when her breathing eased, her temperature
stabled, and it seemed, as always in these frames
of family event, it would go on that way forever,
till the eyes opened and the heart expanded and
then ceased to beat. Yesterday I received a copy
of her high school portrait and quickly (unlike me)
framed it and set it out for all to see. When-
ever someone entered or passed by they asked
who? then, could it be you? that is, me? and of
course it couldn't, the hair soft in thirties style
around the face, the eyes dreamy, accepting,
urgent only in their after-fact, when acceptance
comes to mean response to love, disappointment,
and the power of her knowledge then was to
suffer well, but I was moved by the asking, proud
of the possibility of looking like her, charmed
her dying offered me this gift of accepting well.
Six months before the first stroke she packed
up their belongings, from bedroom to basement
to the attic where she found my love letters
inside the shoe box, my girl scout uniform
folded in safekeeping; she sorted, discarded
and probably stopped to read to see if she could
at last decipher my choices; silk scarves stacked
in perfect squares inside the painted metal box,
sweaters and nylons, what ladylike bedthings
she could abide, cotton sheets still crisp after
decades of laundering. Some furniture she shipped
to me here, overseas, with china cups and
saucers I'd set as a girl for tea. The rest she
must have offered my brothers, then turned
her back on that life, emptied out and tired.
I never stopped to think of her then, turning.
It seemed another task she would manage,
allowing its details to consume her
till she was done to face the future, finished.