It first clutched the grille
of the mystery woman's car
without a ruffle, dead
eyes full of high July sunlight
and no more than that, ever again.
She paid me a few dollars to undertake it
then disappeared from our lives.
We were a crowd, soon, slim-shouldered
girls and one boy around our very first grave,
a last shallow nest for our newly beloved
dead, hacked out with a broken teacup.
We made a solemn hour of it, wrapped the body
in clean paper, tucked it about with flowers,
with wishes, with hard little seeds. We argued
about location, about God and about my fee,
about how long any one of us could hang on
to a moving vehicle.
We piled it over with cool gravel.
One of us wept, for real. All of it
was dug out and scattered by morning.
More money changes hands thirty years on.
This time I'm the one who pays to be admitted,
to file with the rest through Natural History.
I'm an hour deep, halfway through
the long museum when I meet it again,
the Common Sparrow, unwrapped
pinned and nestled
between a thousand or so of its more
and less exotic cousins, under placards
on Darwinism and desire.
One brown-gray moment among the others,
fine of feather, cataloged and tagged
at the ankle, in neat taxidermic font
so that we are all very clear
as we shuffle past
about this common thing, brought flightless and low
and still for our considering.
My Mother’s Funeral
If you’ve had one by now I wasn’t invited
but I’ve crashed it many times. There are no
mournful numbers, no ashes, no priests
though you will probably still keep
your turquoise rosary close by.
Saint Anne of the housewives will make sure
I return your stolen sapphires, and Sylvia’s
great demon sow will guard the cardinal
directions of your going.
Because you were bitter as Hecuba
I will bring black dogs to heel
at your graveside. We will drink Guinness
to your fathers, quinine to your mothers.
Because you were only ever given one rose
that mattered to you, I will bring fists full
of ragweed, ironweed and bull thistle
to protect you from the weak and insincere.
Because you were once a daughter but not
like me, I will touch your hair, warm
the clever bird of your hand between mine
and we will have something like tenderness.
Because you were my mother I will light
blue candles to your memory then play
with the matches, catch the carpet on fire,
shatter teapots and torment the golden son
of your faithless wartime.
Because you are not my mother any more, I will be able
to breathe, to relax my left shoulder.
I will tell you lies and other loving things
with a clear conscience.
I know that you killed and were
killed, that you somehow lived
and died by it. I've measured
the years of my infancy
against the dates of conflict
and disengagement. We are meant
to be strange to each other,
this much is clear.
Your secret life: a dozen
stops between Bangkok, Saigon.
You discovered Buddhism,
Chao Phraya and the Mekong
all from above. The radio
and the reconnaissance lens
remember you forever.
Your stone is carved.
I holed up in the housing,
made wishes on a postcard
of a worn Khmer temple
and held my breath
until I was five.
When you came home, I only
saw your stranger’s hands at their
weekend chores in the yard,
only ever saw your strong
stag's neck bent over a paper.
We did not seek each other.
My arms could never
have circled you.
You left before I could ask,
before I could watch
the field strip, the recoil
and sear, the lock and pin.
Before I could see you
at the work of your heart
and witness how much happens
when the world disassembles.