The day of your death
your six sons gathered
round your deathbed
and listened to your
breath sputter, waited
for your life to gutter out.
Your eyes were shut and you hadn’t
talked in two days. The hospice nurse
said your earlobes curled up, an omen of
imminent death. Your oldest tried to divine
you from a difficult passing with an amends
he whispered in your ear. He was sorry for
the estrangement, the ways he couldn’t learn
to accept you were not who he needed you to be.
Your wife played worried couch potato on the sofa.
Your six boys sat vigil in the room, counting the
paces to heaven with the ticks of a clock. Your
breath went out but never came back. You died
one hour after your last son arrived from Nebraska.
Someone left the room to tell your wife.
Everyone’s favorite brother, my father, called with
the news. His voice was raspy and still, like he was
talking in church. I came fifteen minutes after they
took your body. My uncles dispersed without long
goodbyes. They carried snowfall in their eyes,
the blue-gray of late November when the sky sags
with winter and cries cold without asking for an end.
In the house my grandmother is bursting with secret
things like a teakettle rumbling with heat. She is drunk
with widowhood’s vastness, feels dazed in this new
world like a black piece of driftwood drifting to no end
in the sea. She tells me you worried about what money
would be left to take care of her, how you went on
medication strike and refused pills by stamping your
teeth together. Provider, silent martyr, to the end.
The day of your death your six sons stood guard over your
white-haired rapture and held you in your un-knowing of how
they would hold their own lives without your eyes to
keep watch. They paid your pressure to be the men you
wanted them to be back with permission to let go of your legacy.
Let go, they urged, not knowing how or to what.
Come home, something only you could hear called out.
Why things must end
only you know in your wisdom
falling back from us like waves
retreating from sand.
After your passing your six sons will
pretend to know peace so they don’t squirm
with sorrow in the beds you’ve led them into
only to fall forever in your own sleep.
They will stare at their children’s faces and
wonder what of their father is left, examine
their own gray hair and tremble with ironies,
how you fetched them from invisible places,
how they delivered you back as a debt
they never wanted to pay.
Ashes to ashes,
fathers to sons.