Death Long Distance
The night you died I tried to find a sign
of your passing. Something obvious:
dry leaves swept up in a dust devil, a spider
the red of your hair. It was you
who taught me to make a bird by hooking my thumbs
and inching apart my fingers. Fitting then,
how your doctor should use that motion
to mimic the tumor as it swooped across your back.
We sent you to die twelve-hundred miles from
your stone bird bath and the chiropractor
who never left his wife for you, hooked
to a mechanical bed scribbling journal entries like,
today I ate an apple and felt my hair sprouts
shift and glow. I should have called—I should have
asked a nurse to hold the phone to your ear
while I sang shantih shantih shantih in a soft voice.
Why didn't I have the courage to tell you, death
is no betrayal—die when you want to. The chemo,
the injections, the amputated leg: you did it all
for us. Instead of going to your service
I should draw faces on the foam heads
that hold your wigs. I should draw your face
in eyeliner all over my room. Come back—
the trees here are hungry for your ashes.
Yesterday I glimpsed movement in the milk-fire
of your rough-cut healing crystals. Energy
in the palpitating ribbon of distant heat. Wasps
swarm and ride each wave. You—
swarm and ride each wave.
On all the nights you leave me a spider crawls into my head
legs fat as fingers, a bloated body swathed in fur; my own night priest
bristling in a thread-black gown. My doctor says every milk black
eye hole—a simple misfiring of neurons, my doctor says,
if you want to be cured accept the spider is with you all the time;
when he might have said, accept your husband leaves you to the dark
with a moon crumpled small and a jagged sizzle as the streetlamp,
that once lit your window, shorts, explodes sparks and glass—
such a dangerous night confetti. So I bite my pillows and I scratch
my face and when I wake the bed sheets are patterned with swirls
of my own blood. My mother once advised, if you're afraid of something
deep inside—you'll see it; so I imagine the spider weaves a web of constellations,
that she's a mother tending a nest of sweet clear children. I study her anatomy
until she seems human, cling to the vulnerable image of blood
easing through the slits that line her fragile thumbnail heart.
Bonnie Arning is pursuing an MFA in poetry from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she is the managing editor of the Blue Mesa Review.