I know you only in echo,
as your parents confide—the wound of it
borne as if grief were life’s only message
when you have one son
who takes his life
from his life, their lives.
Your mother says she can’t see you
past your knees. Hard to know you as you
in your afterlife where she tries to follow
in mind to see are you all right there.
She feels cheated, unable
to see your face which
you obliterated, taking yourself
out of here.
You’d tried before, then promised
to get help, go to AA, find
a sponsor; and you meant to, but
for reasons you kept from them,
and maybe even from yourself,
could not. We lose humanity
if we miss knowing
the full range of choices
that might have led you from harm
did not open to you in that deadly hour.
With non-specific pain
all doorways must seem very specifically
shut. We sit together with your “maybes”
which outlive you. Those who love you
are stuffing you with intentions.
The good woman who left you, she
left just in time not to be
the assumed reason
you succeeded this time in putting the world
Hearing on Irish radio of another man whose son
was beaten to death, then thrown
onto the railroad tracks when the murderer
wanted to hide his deed—how that father knew
where the unconvicted killer lived and would stand
at intervals in the night before the house
and howl: You murderer! You
killed my son! over and over,
I wish I could build a small hut, a wailing hut
where your father could stand similarly and cry
against the facelessness of loss incubating its “whys.”
And even if the killer never comes out
to face his accusers, it’s a brand
on the communal heart to have one father cry like that
with his whole being,
trying to make a rectitude with only his voice
and his love raking the night.
If the door of this hut opened, and
the murderer stepped out, it would be easier
to see this was not your son, and the grief
would bear two forms—the desperate one
who took him, and the one we love
when love asks everything.
But did the father go home?
He went home.
What did he there?
He sat with his wife and they drank together
peppermint tea, calming themselves.
They had to make dinner.
They had to see to things.
But beyond that
they found themselves in love in an entirely
new unspeakable way
with each other
and with their ever prodigal son.
for Russell Guthrie
and his parents, Ann and Jim