The Immortal Part: a Poem in Requiem

Dedicated to J.R.

Ink tastes an awful lot like tears
(when swallowed in a dark room). Stain my tongue black with all my onyx weeping and newsprint obituaries.

A shattered Valentine calligraphies my heart with unsent letters and unfinished stories.

Untold secrets unfold in my chest like origami butterflies.

I watched your bones become frail and useless as the muscles atrophied. Abilities eroded, yet you did not weep.

When we first met, the disease must have already progressed, ripping from you the things you learned when you were young.

(Your silver cane flashes dully in the photographs my mind captured.)

Your smile never flickered. (Not around me anyway – but who was I?)

When your wife carried you up the stairs, I’m sure you wept.

(How could you not? She was a creature crafted of sticks and you were a stone.)

But to the public, you shone like a constellation of constant bliss. You joked and dispensed advice for caring for my hibiscus plant & how to cultivate relationships.

Both botanist and psychologist to those who knew to listen to your tremulous voice.

(How to handle conflict without confrontation, how to mollify the monster. The power of a pot of tea.

Let it brew.

Let yourself breathe.)

You were teaching me skills therapists deemed coping mechanisms (and later, survival methods).

Breathe in. Breathe out.

You told me to think like a starfish and instead of thinking of two possibilities (because it’s either this way or that way – left hand or right), think of five possibilities for the five points of the star. Octopi have eight possibilities. Centipede – a hundred. I hope where you’re going you have endless possibilities.

Don’t think of the end. Remember what you had and what you gave. You were a wise hippie with a beatific smile. (Never called you a saint, but when your legs surrendered or your brain began to craft hopeless illusions, you never waved a white flag.)

You crawled, resilience through your fear. Yet when I saw you last, you still carried –

clenched between your teeth –

a quiet nobility.

I might not recall your voice in a short time, but the lessons, the lessons have embedded themselves into a deeper part of my being.

(The part that will never die.)

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