Monthly Archives: June 2020

At the terminal

At the terminal

Before I was born before he was who he was

coming back from college in Rhode Island my father
saw striding across the floor of Grand Central

Station the familiar shape of his dad

off on another government trip    They met
by accident surrounded by marble and sound
people coming and going while they stood

next to each other for a moment talking

Your death

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Your death

One day your death is born. Like a root vegetable
he forms just beneath the surface of the earth,
fed by future circumstances combined with causes
thickening and unwinding in the dirt of time
where the past and present lay beside one another.
He wriggles out slowly, turning and turning and tilling
the door of grass open. As soon as air hits its body
it grows clothes, ceremonial looking robes and headpieces
from your nightmares, your childhood. The disappointed
brow of your father, the breathing of the stranger who
followed you down the road. Like a bird he knows
where he must go. To find you, so you may meet your death.

He’s ugly and small, so your death must travel by night.
If enough living people see him, he will simply disappear.
He knows the oppression of not being accepted, not being
believed. He has no language to formulate this knowledge
into words or he would offer people he met some solace:
Yes, death is real, your own death will come for you some
day, but today is not that day, and I am not your death.
I am the death of the reader of this poem, but even knowing
I am coming they will not believe, and wherever they will be
When I meet them is where I am heading. And he’d go softly
away, but it’s never like that. Without believing in him
they stare through him until he is truly transparent, truly not there.

So another day your death is born. Like a bird he knows
where he must go. He travels by night, he covers himself
with fallen leaves and pine needles during the day or lies
in the shadow of chunks of concrete on the edge
of a construction site. Occasionally, while nodding off to sleep
an image of him comes to you, in perfect focus, this little
unbeing, like a still photo but you know he’s not still,
like a postcard he is moving towards you. He finds one night
the interstate, knows it is the most direct way to reach you,
and his hair grows more quickly as he feels himself getting
closer, until a sleepy truck driver nods off just long enough
to slide into the breakdown lane and crush your death where he crouches.

Your death is born on another continent, even farther away. His eyes
turn like dry stones in his sockets, he has stunted leather wings
under his arms that would not work to fly, and as he emerges
from a bog his head is instantly covered by a bowler cap, his squat
body glistening in shiny robes, his feet quick in colorful hiking shoes.
He learns almost by accident how to use public transportation,
where nobody looks at anyone else. One day, months along,
he comes upon a scene of horrific violence on the road, but other
deaths are there for those people, you’re nowhere to be seen,
and he sees that it’s safe to climb inside the wheel-
well of one of the ambulances. Even if a paramedic sees him
out of the corner of her eye, she has seen so much death
she doesn’t look twice. Death is in your county, coming down
a country road, stopping at a park, walking through the woods.
Emerging from the near side of the river your death notices
something moving in the tall grass, and curiosity gets the best
of him, he follows it, and as the grass gives way to a freshly
mowed lawn, he sees it is another of your deaths, and when they
see each other they both pop, neither can exist now that
they have witnessed the other. You hear a sound in your yard
and think one of your cats is throwing up, but there is nothing there.

Your death is born in the cold wasteland. He is so unappealing that
even a hungry polar bear will not swipe at him. He falls into the ocean
and rolls for years, for decades. The part of him that is not submerged
sports a tattered raincoat, then a wave crashes over him and a new
flank surfaces like a leg covered in spandex. Then that submerges,
and over and over it rolls. Your death is born on a hot summer day and
tumbles out of a palmetto tree like a cockroach and is stepped on
several times but its mass expands into the crack of a sidewalk and
keeps moving. Your death is born just a mile from you, mucus streaming
from his snout because he is so close, he has no limbs to propel himself
your way but he knows if circumstances are right you will walk right by him
while you walk the dogs, so he waits but you are distracted by a text and he
melts in the sun. Your death is born ten years from now and like a bird he knows
to travel by night and meet no one’s curious glance and find his shadow
in moments of unbelievable coincidence where his existence will not
be questioned, he’s coming, of all these possible deaths he may or may
not be the one to be here, but this poem will get to you first, this
small ugly thing with a male pronoun and a single message, if I got here
before death it is because death really is coming, you should make a place
for him every day, so many have tried and only one will make it to you.
Don’t make fun of his appearance, he is just a pile of circumstances
as unique as you have been, he will be thirsty and if you make him some
tea you will have just a little longer to marvel at your life, perfectly cast
in his reflection in the mirror as he lifts the cup to his lips.