Thursday, February 2, 2023

What the Living Do

Marie Howe, What the Living Do (1998)
Photo Credit: Bill Jacobson

Poems and Fragments

For Three Days

For three days now I've been trying to think of another word for gratitude 
because my brother could have died and didn't


Rochester, New York, July 1989

music would sometimes drift up through the floorboards,

and he might doze or wake a little or sleep, 
and whoever was with him might lean back in the chair beside the bed 
and not know it was Chopin, 
but something soft and pretty -- maybe not even hear it, 
not really, until it stopped 
-- the way you know a scent from a flowering tree once you've passed it. 


 The Last Time

The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant
with white tablecloths, he leaned forward 
and took my two hands in his hands and said,
I'm going to die soon. I want you to know that.


And I said, I think I do. 
And he said, What surprises me is that you don't.

And I said, I do. And he said, What?
And I said, Know that you're going to die.

 And he said, No, I mean know that you are.


The Cold Outside

Soon I will die, he said, and then 
what everyone has been so afraid of for so long will have finally happened,

and then everyone can rest. 


The Kiss 

When he finally put 
his mouth on me -- on 


my shoulder -- the world 
shifted a little on the tilted


axis of itself. The minutes
since my brother died


stopped marching ahead like
dumb soldiers and


the stars rested.
His mouth on my shoulder and


then on my throat
and the world started up again


for me,
some machine deep inside it


all the little wheels


slowly reeling then speeding up,
the massive dawn lifting on the other 


side of the turning world.
And when his mouth 


pressed against my 
mouth, I


opened my mouth 
and the world's chord


played at once
a large, ordinary music rising

from a hand neither one of us could see.

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