His lips leashed to the hospital wall by plastic tubing, oxygen flowing from the pump hidden on the other side of the wall to the alveoli rupturing within him — we were already somewhere like purgatory. In the book of the dead, the dead go on believing in the body, craving a cigarette, lapping with a nonexistent tongue at a stale cup of coffee. Not knowing what else to do, I stroked his back as tentatively as one stretches out a hand to a stray animal, and he lowered his head and shuddered, surrendering to the pull of this life, as a horse to the bit, the iron, the captivating grain. While the living hurry to open a door to a voice that is no longer there, the one who has died learns to recognize the corpse. It takes days to realize: this is myself — a child, a mother or father, now reflected in the gaze of a terrible deity, a human scalp in one hand, in the other, a seashell full of blood. We were waiting for the readings of his heart, the colorless areas on the corona indicating which muscles were dying or dead, isolated deltas where rivers no longer flowed. If I had asked him to rest in such a narrow space, he would have insisted he could never fit. How can I walk through this house, step over and around, when what is now called “the body” is removed? Wrapped like a birthday present in gray paper, a white bow — a box full of his ashes: two pounds, dense as a star that, collapsing, leaves behind a black hole. In a stunned field, all we called “father” drifts in the air. He lifted his hand to catch his own soul as it flew out of his mouth. It flew away anyway, leaving his hand behind, frozen in a clawlike grip. At night, I wake up and say to no one in particular, “My father is dead.” How we tried to plumb the well of his coffin, saying it did not look like him. We covered that chest with white roses. But we would never have placed on Dad those chilled leaves, their cold drops of water. In the note he wrote to himself, between the used-car ads and the golfing tips: “First the soul must pass through a terrible darkness.” Now I pass through that darkness everywhere, impermeable as the stain he sweated into his sheets, the terrible track of his struggling at night to breathe. The streets, the crowded aisles of the supermarket, seem transparent, a membrane, thinned by friction or need, so that a single molecule passes through — harrowed from one cell, one being, one world to another, saying aloud: May he not be afraid, may he enter the clear light of the void. May he not be afraid, may he enter the clear light of the void.