When the phone rang at seven a.m.,
leaden light crept beneath our
blackout shades in eerie streaks,
and overnight, the damp Seattle air
had left its clammy imprint on our skin.
Rob was dead.
Found on his kitchen floor,
a needle in his arm, an IV bag
stolen from the hospital hanging
above his young body.
His sister came, and we scattered
Rob’s ashes in the Sound, the San Juan
Islands silent witnesses to our grim
work on that dreary day.
No rowing for us, no coffin;
just a ferry, and an urn.
But look how the painter’s pinched
faces mirror our own. Parents,
grandmother, sister (younger
than Rob’s), each wearing identical
flat, distanced frowns as if,
though they are all in the same boat,
each is victim to his own private
tragedy, her own disorienting loss.
They stare stupefied at the bleak
horizon or gaze into the black
waters below, as if their pain
could fly away with the gulls or
sink down into the depths, done.
See the forethought in their hands,
how the body copes long after the mind
goes numb. Look how father grips
the oars and rows, mother cradles
her bundle of provisions (even in grief
her hands do the work of living),
how grandmother clutches
a bible which does not console,
while sister gently holds
a yellow flower to place
atop the baby’s coffin.
It was the same for us. Our bodies
conveyed us to the task: hands drove
the car out of the city, turned
the pages of Rob’s diary (eyes absorbed
the fathomless sadness
hidden there), arms held
each other tight, fingers scooped
out black ashes from the box, scattered
them, as if we had done all this before.
I couldn’t speak of it for weeks. My throat
clamped down on my words.
Rob was gone, his sister back east.
The damp and gray plodded on.
Some days I’d walk down to
Pikes Place Market and watch
how the rugged mountains hovered
white over water, the remains
of my wretchedness softening
under their primordial spell. Soon
I could say it:
Rob is dead. I could convey it
out into gray skies, and over steely waters
as if the pain of my farewell could
fly to the farthest shores, gone.
Sara Palmer is a retired psychologist and an active writer, reader, hiker, knitter, and volunteer with literary and health nonprofits. Her poems have appeared in Yellow Arrow Journal, Pen in Hand, and Poetry is Life: Writing with Yellow Arrow. She lives in Baltimore, MD.
The Ekphrastic Review
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