Smoking in the girls’ room, sneaking a drink, napping
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I thought you could not die until the sun stopped
and summer’s shifting air parted into light’s opening doors.
I never believed you would die until I stood clutching
the steel bed railings. Fragile flesh cracked
like a dropped egg. Your straining lungs heaved,
wheezing like a lumbering combiner lurching through ripened wheat.
Your sunken chest, my first safe pillow,
fluttered up and down like a frightened partridge.
Your hazel eyes clouded; speech trembled upon your lips.
Eternity slipped between us. You stared up at me
like a puzzled child and then turned back.
Your eyelids quivered shut. The hiss and spit
of oxygen stung my ears. It was the hardest work
I ever have known, covering your thin shoulders
with the sheet, squeezing your fingers, fumbling,
letting your hand drop and walking away.
It is harder now, letting go.
I greet callers at the front door in your place,
accept bags of ripe tomatoes and platters of grapes.
I pick out the softest bones from table scraps
for your bewildered dog. I nail the smiles on my face,
go hide, huddle on the running board of your pick-up in the dark.
I walk down to the pond, stand chainsmoking on the dam,
looking out over the water. Tomorrow at the family graveyard
we will plant your true seed, charred chips and broken shards
of shining bones, deep in earth’s womb, with carnations and spider mums.
Daddy, you are the first man I learned to love,
the one man closest to a god I have ever known.
Foxes bark from the silent trees.
I flip my cigarette into the reeds, giggle, marveling again
how your Scots blood, your huge highlands heart
cheats the undertakers. Somehow I knew it,
all the time; how you have finished living,
how you will never die.
Virginia Love Long