This Inventory Is a Lie

I borrowed a list of resentments
from a stranger

on a train. I’m not even pissed
at you for dying. Maybe later.

I was once—angry—when
you accused me
of starving

myself. But even that rocking
is an empty dinghy

beneath the old drawbridge—
no sail, no wind.

The Eve

She wears
no mask to honor
those dead—in her own
voice. A preoccupation
with cemeteries may end
tomorrow. Or her identity
will be revealed
by other naked means.


You say let’s celebrate
Columbus—Day. I’ll dirty
my trench coat
for you. I could be a detective
the way I’ve perfected the stalk
without disturbing

anyone, especially the dead. I yell
at those people
who climb on the red metal
sculpture in a public garden.
It’s not a slide. I’m no grave
digger. Archaeologist—never. Who
gets to say what’s sacred or how

to achieve closure? It’s time to give
those bones a rest.

Will to Resume

Time to read
a chapter in a novel, watch
a movie start
to finish (without interruption), listen
to anything but
songs from Nirvana’s Nevermind
on the radio. Time to tuck
the tributes, altered memories, grief between
pages of a journal
you’ve been rereading
(without interruption) for two months. Bible
studies will be held
on Sunday evenings in your favorite coffee house.
(He’ll still be dead.)
Those girls will continue to grow.
Sometimes leaves will turn and fall
at the same time.

Lesson Plan

If I study the word
“long” from every measured angle
I still won’t know what
you meant or felt by those right-slanting
letters. And with you

dead, those secrets will remain secure
inside a locker
I’m not meant to discover. If I do,
I‘ll pretend not to remember
the combination just so you can

teach me about numbers again—

however it is you ghosts
do that sort of thing.

The Dead Can’t Hurt

No longer in the run around, she traipses
across an invisible line
between mentor

and visitor, room
and mask, smile
and lie, tears
and truth, lover

and ghost. A new
preoccupation might not be so kind.

Civil Delusion

Humor me—let’s pretend
you’re not dead. I’m young
enough to think I can still

drink. To believe you
think about me 30 minutes
before dawn, 30 minutes

after dusk. Not all promises
will be broken. You’ll make me laugh
more than cry. And I’ll see

that ridiculous smile,
those chuckling eyes,
when I can’t stop

writing these poems
about a dead man.

No Auction

Mixed in with a bundle of continuing education
junk mail, she pulls out a letter
originally postmarked August 17, 1981. No explanation
for how it made its snail
of all snails way to her current mail box

given how many addresses and lives
she has slipped through in 30 years. This is a poem,

not a documentary on the US Postal Service. She doesn’t
recognize the return address—all but rubbed out
from decades of dodging the dead
letter office. She hesitates to open it
for fear it will crumble in her fingers—sender

identity lost in a palm
full of stationery dust. Swallowing hard, she tears
from the top. Is jarred
by the careful construction
of each letter to each word. Such elegance

from a male hand. She instantly recognizes
the handwriting. It’s from you.

A brief missive. Spending a week on the Cape
with relatives before returning
to another school year of pushing numbers
to students the way someone else might sell the alphabet—
C&M, H, LSD, MJ, PCP. It ends:

My dear, my heart is breaking
as I realize you are gone

forever. Next time we meet, you will no longer be
a teenage girl dolled up in blushes
and high heels. Were they for me? You will be
an adult—I will be too intimidated to touch

even a strand of your hair. Next time
we meet, you won’t remember how
I say your name. My dear, this is life. Trust me
when I say it’s for the best.

All that we mourn today becomes enriched sod
we use tomorrow to keep growing. Or we perish.

Carefully folding and tucking the letter away, she wonders
how she got so lucky to receive mail from the dead.

Below Grade Cafe

Incessant talkers deliver
monologues to dead loved ones
before burial, a self-proclaimed born
teacher gossips

to a silent companion. I’m the eavesdropper—
noisy interloper
who won’t say a word.

Beneath the Cellar Stair

Each name spelled out
safely, slowly with italics read
in a deeper voice. I’ve known to be
troubled when others speak of me

in the third person. In my presence. I’ve lost
my humanity, ability to reason, the color
in my skin. I’m a slack dummy, stuffing
that’s begun to seep out. And when those who would speak

of me as if
I’ve expired
are now themselves
dead, names

no longer can be pinned
to recognizable sounds. Boldface
gestures go unnoticed. Another crate
of other people’s memories

I must guard with my life.