|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.
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
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
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.