In a Pile of Pictures
The man—young enough to be my son—
held the swaddled child away and high
for the camera to catch full moon face.
He studied her, she looked to the voice behind
the lens, they stopped: the child at twelve weeks,
the man at 1,636
(totals noted on the photo’s white reverse).
I turn it over and turn it back again
until the white square edged in waves
becomes a kind of frame in time for them:
the man, the child, the interval between,
its unfamiliar calculus of weeks,
set at 1,624
by births a near-third century apart.
His way of gazing hard, that small joke—
a show, I think, of both delight and dread
(or do I read that in?) at being held
by this new kind of love (“you grabbed my thumb,”
he said, “with such strength I was amazed.”)
He realigned his notion of himself,
reckoned where he stood, and wrote it down.
As now I calculate our sum of weeks
in tribute to him. I counted nothing at his death,
but placed my hand on his unfeeling calf
where, underneath the quilt, his warmth remained.
And waited with him for the undertaker’s van,
beneath my palm, the smooth absence of his skin.
My origin to his end, he held me, holds me
still, within the margined frame in which
I now place us, though each memory
undoes me: I won’t have it, not the moment
when the quilt fell away and suited men
moved him from his bed, that only face
zipped away and carried beyond knowing.
Instead, I return to the moment when I whispered,
weeping, in his bad ear, “Fly away”
(so far gone nothing seemed left but slight
breath). “Fly away,” I said and felt
in the hand that held his bad hand a rush
of feeling from him that moved up my arm in mute
response (I scanned his still face) and stopped.