Everyone was there when you died except me. By everyone I just mean not me. The living room, I assume, your bed against the wall, off-white & washed in diffuse light. Family, friends surrounding you like a fairy ring of redwoods as you die in the middle of that stand. Your death our mother of towering grief, your mother with golden, gilded hair.
I stand outside of this room, strain it into marble one breath at a time. The people too, their glances, the hands they touched and the things they dreamt.
Sometimes this constructed memory loses its natural light; each face stays smooth and when I push past a shoulder, I’m met with another, and another. There is no middle.
I was in someone else’s basement the night you died; I was young and hungry, just beyond contact and desperate for touch; I do not remember her name.
Our friend called me the next day. Someone I never quite forgave for failing to reach me. Now he is a former friend and someone I cannot stop loving in some small way as a bridge back to you and our time together.
The day of your funeral, he and I smoked a cigarette as we walked to the church; someone else’s father drove by, slowed, said, “this is the right day to have a cigarette,” or something like that, an allowance of grief without censure. We were 16, as were you.
Sometimes I step into the room where you died and flowers encircle our throats, as if we will leap from the earth as something incantatory and elemental, death without legend. Your long thin body longer with feathers where you were once marked with blue ink.
Did anyone stand up and hum in that final pasture for the dead. Who was the last to leave. Did anyone know the word for the dead is the same as the word that releases them. What the first word said in that room, the first words after you died, I will not know.
I remember our friend calling me the next day, calm with trauma, to say you had died. That he was there as witness. I don’t have any words of my own in this memory. There was a telephone cord. The stairs and me at the top — I mean I was at the top of the stairs attached to a telephone cord, the carpet a dark and fading green.
Somewhere in the gray the light contracts. An attempt to leave or an attempt to stay, the light contracts.
Small bonfires of newspaper on asphalt, lit when we snuck out of the house at night, too young to dare anything more than walk to the elementary school blacktop and set fire to things.
The hill of fireflies by our house, the hill at the elementary school, the elementary school with the hill with the fireflies.
I sent a draft of this writing in an otherwise blank email to myself. My inbox informs me, “This message contains no body text.” The apostrophes are two sets of hands surrounding the same emptiness. I write, and will write, and I can’t hold your writ-upon body.
— whether it’s ideal depends upon the angle of creation. There is a dream where you hold my face.
A particular valley. Everyone’s here. There aren’t any footprints. Silver light aligns the river with the fault line. The earth will crack one last time and when it does the river will bear us down, down to the bottom of the footprint.
I lay next to you in your mother’s bed, fell asleep right there with you. It might have been more than once but I only remember the soft beige linens, the clicking machine with a tube of food, talking into the part of the night saved for children to grow into witness.
Thanksgiving, years ago. I am at my uncle’s house, in the basement, and I look up the stairs to someone standing at the top, backlit and unrecognizable. This is when I learned you were sick, either from someone on the phone or that person at the top of the stairs.
The funeral had a priest and a rabbi. I read a poem about trees and empire, our friends and I sang, the church was standing room.
You can remove tree sap from your hands by rubbing them with dirt.
after Frank O’Hara
What’ll thrive if every day is summer, no fallow baseball fields. Moss retires to dust, lichen to ash, and what passes for sleep is only the sun relearning its power from salvation to mourning. The answer tastes like spring without spectre, the winter without promise.
The Orioles aren’t shouting because they’re winning.
The space beyond forgiving, beyond grief, where the sweetness recedes to silted memory — what is left but the long logic of stone. To swallow whole the great bay of sap & pine, a couple of boys sitting under the trees daydreaming their own empires with pine cone economies. The gesture that releases its tide has to reveal itself. It has to. The gesture that releases forgiveness is yet unformed.
I was not there, that last night, nor will I be. The longing replaced with the slow gradation of pine needles pooling brown, replaced with a small stack of half-finished letters. I will carry each one to the roof of your house and wait; I will gather your ornaments in the long-ashen fireplace and stand guard. The dog-scraped door, the elbow kitchen, your glasses — the basement is a vessel for spare change and chilled crickets, the home for the last sleepover before the last sleepover.
The letter too returns to stone. Where there is a house there is a leaving. Where there is stone there is the heat to remake it.
Andrew Sargus Klein is a queer poet, essayist, and critic living in Baltimore with his partner and their two cats. His work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Hyperallergic, Nashville Review, Pithead Chapel, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Offing, and elsewhere. He is a former contributing editor at Territory and a poetry reader at Little Patuxent Review. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore and is the Marketing Manager for the Enoch Pratt Free Library.