You were a young driver
in a cream-colored coupe.
The rubber tires squealed
around an alpine curve
and then there was no sound
as the car overturned.
It left your parents dead
and you dazed, so to age
with just one memory.
Though your inheritance
and the insurance meant
a comfortable house,
you wandered, your laughter
never easing your frown
or keeping friends with you.
On vacation, you flew
to Thailand. The pilot
erred, and the plane faltered.
It was a fireball
falling to the jungle,
burning one hundred screams.
How many times can a scar heal over?
The ones carved into you with a backhoe?
Or the ones you pave over with concrete
only to crack open in an earthquake?
Do tears ever dry up? Or do they fill
the hollow left in your chest by grieving,
a private Dead Sea sloshing when you walk?
Or do they form stalactites on your face?
How many times can you answer the call?
Aching from body blows, sweat pouring down,
gasping on your stool? Yet again you do,
as you will until you can stand no more.
You were the oldest of seven,
and the table was never full.
The town suffered in soot and smog,
the clang of gears drove off the birds.
You couldn’t tell your left from right.
Dropped out first. Then you were laid off,
and your father was laid off too.
Killing yourself, you thought, would feed
your siblings, and you gulped those pills.
The doctors pumped out your stomach.
For days, you sat at the window,
drawing both your nightmares and dreams.
You walked by an art school, couldn’t
fill out the forms, but you showed them
you could draw and they took you in.
Just as you take in kids today
and put plaster into their hands,
to touch, to mold, to make, to hold.
Five of us in high school—
a phalanx unbroken
until we each went off
to different colleges.
We’ll stay friends, we promised;
see you at winter break.
Your favorite joke was,
“If you fart, laugh, and cough
at the same time, you’ll die.”
You walked out on a ridge
and were caught in headlights
flashing off your glasses.
“I saw your friend’s mother,”
my own mother told me.
“Her hair’s gone white, her face
is lined. She’s sold her house.”
And they will never eat
holiday meals again.
Four o’clock in the afternoon.
Sun slants the trees on families
picnicking on the Bermuda grass.
You make your backpack into a pillow
and try to sleep on a park bench
with just a flannel shirt for warmth,
while Robert, in his chrome-studded
black leather jacket and skull-stud
earring talks to another guy,
saying he’s an “American
consumer.” One of the arrows
painted on his jacket back points
two thousand miles away. Maybe
Ma wonders where you are, but Pa
swills his beer and calls you a tramp.
Sure, that D&C embryo
was a curse, haunting you each night,
an extraterrestrial who
could have become yours and instead
it got flushed, like they threw you out.
With that ghost, you wander the streets—
the shelters are just too creepy.
In your dreams you stand at the docks,
and the boat you board drifts unmoored.
Dying must be closing.
It must be shutting eyes.
It must be curled fingers.
Instead you stretched your arms
and reached out for others,
and finding a secret,
caressed it like a stone,
let out a sigh of peace,
and spoke its name aloud.
And your friends took that name
tattooed them on their skins,
passing on the secret.
Dying should be closing
but your open hands made
This elegy is in memory of Larisa Caldwell, a nineteen year-old woman who died of a rare cancer in 1997. Following her diagnosis, Larisa selected the word continuation from 365 Tao as a tattoo. Her friends got the same tattoo in her memory, and this was recorded in a book, Continuation: Honoring and Celebrating the Human Condition by R. Scott Brooks and photographs by Kent Peterson.
Sadly, I recently learned that Kent has died, and that Scott died a few years earlier. They worked to keep Larisa’s memory alive, and I hope that Kent and Scott will in turn be remembered for the beauty that they created.
On a field wide and green,
with ten hands clutching you,
you leapt into the sun,
caught the spinning football
with one hand and a grin.
Two nights later, a drunk
crushed your car and your skull.
How does your name com back
at night, but you’re still gone?
Posted in Uncategorized Tagged Elegy