poem07 Nov 2021 06:49 pm

Adele Gardner

This Halloween the old man picks out coffins.

His parlor looked bare without one: so many years in which

another relative died, and he sat nights

communing with the dead.  So peaceful, it didn't even matter

whether he spoke or watched, but by candlelight

there was plenty of time to get it all off his chest,

apologize to his daughter, his niece, his grandson, for birthdays missed;

chew out his son for running away and leaving the business to crumble;

tell his sweethearts precisely how he loved them.

His wife was hardest--almost as bad as Mom, when he was ten.

They're all gone, now.  He sits alone,

missing the coffins--company.

One last ritual to cling to.

The dead don't speak, exactly, but they fill silences,

pregnant with answers you can almost pluck from the air,

a little overripe with waiting, but pungent, sweet,

an earthy taste like the forbidden fruit

just the other side of the grave.

He misses the tinkle of his granddaughter's laughter, there in the silence,

the eloquent press of dust that traced his name

above her on the mantle, the titter of mice

scampering over her toes and down the legs of the coffin,

brushing him with silken whiskers like her hair

so that he reached out, tried to touch one,

caught just a fingertip taste of one silky, eiderdown cheek--

the same as hers, but soft, as it had been when she grew old,

still warm, not hard as that withered figure in her casket.

So, for one moment, lifted in hope, he believed her:

that she'd still be here to look out for him; that love never dies.

Perhaps it's true.  Now he's the last, and two

hundred years seems too long a span--

though too short to contain all the hours he wanted

to spend with them, all these branches from the same root, each unique,

and for his love too brief, too brief.

He'll order one more coffin now,

drape it in plush black velvet, paint it pumpkin-rich orange,

lie down for a nap on Halloween, the one night when his parlor

is still crowded with chatter

from the coffins long gone by.  Perhaps this time

he'll slip over to the other side--not in his sleep, but setting out to sea,

pushing off at last into the waves by the light

of a wavering lantern.  He's so excited.

He can't wait for them to join him,

crowding his parlor with delight in their coffin-ships

to pull him out from shore.


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