Two years ago today, a bunch of us stood in a window-lined waiting room far above November-dirty, Seattle streets. Rain smashed the glass. It was cold and she was dying. That was all most of us knew. We had woken up that morning regular people. That evening, we practiced in our minds how to stand up straight against shock, how to swallow our hearts back down and not break things as we walked out the hospital doors at the end of it all.
Since then, nothing and everything has changed. Since then, we have all shattered in our own thousand ways with not much hope of piecing it all back together exactly right. But we try anyway. The words I remember from her, before the routine surgery that went wrong, before the stroke, before the silence, give me pause. They are just mine, like a handful of tiny lights strung together. Spots of wisdom, a memory here, advice there. They illuminate who shows up and how. They remind me how I should show up, and when I shouldn’t bother. Where to dig deeper, breathe deeper, love deeper, let go. Because life is just too short. It really fucking is. In my 42 years, I’ve stood by twice and watch a soul leave the body of someone I care about. There’s nothing worse. So the string of lights grows longer. New spotlights of truth. Things end. Things begin.
Here is a piece I wrote the Spring after she died, about trying to keep all the goodness from slipping away to numbness. About pounding away at the confusions of loss. Some of us hide, some of us drink, some of us go running, some of us rage. Maybe we all do all of it.
How To Stop Writing Poems About Your Dead Friend
Cars creep the cemetery
like bulky uncles. I scream
“uncle” every time
you don’t arrive. Anywhere.
You are not buried
here where I slog laps
around the dead. Around skunk’s
leftover stink and grief stones.
What does tiny artery plaque look like?
Sand-sized brain bombs.
Pop rocks. People breakers.
Our own private Nagasaki.
Two miles more. I am salt. I hate
the woman selling headstones, her brass
nametag glints. I hate that
the rules for everything are on the internet.
Except this. I don’t love
the beer you drank. But I drink it.
We clink Coronas, heft up shields,
sing shitty Neil Diamond.
No lime forgives the bitter.
One more mile but I can’t do this.
No one shares photos of ashes,
only sunsets and filtered selves. Never urns of
moth’s wings and chalk.
Agony in the everyday
is for losers. Go big or go home!
they say. I say
Fuck it. Home has beer.
Some documentary claims compassion
as intrinsic. It idles and hums in our cells, waiting
in grocery store silences. If we stopped the numbing
would it explode in our brains?
They say compassion is emitted
between the beats of a heart. The dead space.
If it’s true then I am a monk
running these hard circles.