The last time I visited your grave I was stuck
in traffic, desperate to move. I never cared
much for graveyards— all of those expensive
rocks, the heavy quiet, flags and flowers
you will never see. And the thought of your body
continuing to decay right there, right beneath
my shoes—Isn’t that what rotting is anyway?
Just another kind of slow dying? I got off the first
exit and found myself crossing the train tracks
that mark the entrance into the cemetery.
You’d like that, I think—the irrelevant part
of this story—how a few drops of early April
rain sprinkled my windshield and I could hear
the rumble of a commuter train approaching.
Does it bother you—the way they zip by like that—
that perpetual state of hurry? Or is it the endless,
lugubrious freight train, dragging its worn-out
thunder of metal. Does it make you brood in
the box? Make you want cancer all over again?
It’s been decades since I bent over your body
and wept—pressed my lips to your sunken
cheek, astonished at how fast the body goes cold—
how quickly we can become entirely emptied
of love and esprit. I laid my head upon your chest
and recited three Hail Mary’s aloud. I was thirteen,
and I believed she could hear them. And maybe
it was because in the end I swear you looked
as if you saw something in the room. Your skinny
arms reaching out, almost in panic, pointing
to the corner of the ceiling. You tried to show us,
tried to say what it was, but no one in the room,
not Gramma, not your children, none of us
could hear past the sickness gurgling in your throat.
We kissed your head, said things would be ok,
and you laid back again, annoyed. In the graveyard,
I tried to find evidence of you anywhere—a tap
on my shoulder, a playful tug on my sleeve,
or perhaps I would lose my breath in the feeling
of a sudden, sentient wind. A cloud of gnats arrived,
dancing out from along the river, as if newly born
from mud and melting snow. They came upon me
like a net, flew in my face and my eyes, I spit
one out of my mouth and left. Sometimes I think
I’ve outgrown your memory. Each day, I think
of you a little less, forget the details of one
of your stories, put another picture away
and you become a little more gone. And I hardly
think about those final hours, the way my cells
burned and split over the thought of losing
you. And the way you panted and genuflected
repeatedly, preparing yourself, pointing to the corner
as if you could actually see something coming
for you. Your sick eyes, all the small tunnels
of your body freezing and seizing at the sight of it.
ELEGY OF SIGNS by Kate Hanson Foster