The dead wear bracelets; their wrists want some weight
now that everything is weightless and watches don’t make sense.
It’s no surprise they’ve learned to walk soundlessly, without
jangling, the way a cat graces his muscles
so the bell around his neck won’t ring.
My father drives his first car, a Model T, into the sky,
black clouds thick with gumbo. People, stuck, hitch a ride,
thumbs out, faces blurred, valises gaping open.
The four directions here are only up and down. My father knows
where to take them, and though he’s never heard of Charon and his coins,
he demands a price. Sixteen years till my mother arrives but even she
has to pay from the tips she smuggled in her pocket.
Nothing meant by it, he’s just that way.
I won’t be long, she says, when she dons her teacher’s clothes
and enters what is over, what she calls a second chance.
She rehearses the words she’ll say to the problem student who liked
to tell his fellows he’d camped at night in Shakespeare & Company’s
in Paris beside the shelf that held Rimbaud, his Illuminations,
his Une Saison d’Enfer, as if merely sleeping there had made him
bad and brilliant. The floor of the classroom gleams
with hard new wax, the blackboard’s clean. Hours merely pass.
She puts check marks by all the blanks on the attendance sheet,
then stands at the front of an emptiness she can’t see past.
It’s never what you think it’s going to be.
The girls who work in the factories in The History of Time
lick the ends of their brushes, paint the watches’ hands and numbers
so they can be read in the dark. The paint laced with uranium.
That place where lost words gather—the tip of the tongue—
turns radiant. Even after
they stop breathing, their breath
inside the dark caves of their mouths
glows a ghostly green.
By the side of the gravel road
the dust’s so fine
though the frog is light as a leaf
you can see his tracks.
That’s what’s missing in heaven.
Don’t play dead until you die.