last dream before waking

My grandfather never died;
he simply lost all animation.
We carry him from house to car
to house, & his pale thin figure
is able to hold any pose indefinitely.

He doesn’t eat, so he never goes
to the bathroom — a relief for everyone.
Some of us do put words in his mouth:
I know what Pop-pop would say, we say,
& maybe we do, but his expression never changes.

He’s sitting right there when
the four siblings meet
to divide the estate. He was always good
at not hearing things, though,
& this morning is no exception.
The room turns to coal around him.
We are shining our headlamps
at the shale ceiling & its yellow
shapes of ferns. We are listening for canaries.

After a lifetime in the oil industry,
it must seem strange to return
to the hard coal country of his childhood,
but at least Pop-pop doesn’t need a light.
This is an outcome he’d recognize —
one he set aside after his famous talk with God.
I hear his nose drip behind me
like the stalactite it was always trying to become.
Someone says, Black as the ace of spades!
with a nervous laugh,
& it sounds just like him.

[Poetry Thursday – dead link]

I also recorded an audio version of my poem “Into the Garden” from the other day, and posted it along with the text here.

Find links to other people’s Poetry Thursday posts here.

14 Replies to “Inheritance”

  1. Oh, I like this so much! Stirs up so many images and memories. How many generations of people we carry around in fragments; and sometimes fight over them, too.

  2. Thanks, Nancy! I’m glad to hear that, because I’m still unsure about the piece – for one thing, it has a quieter ending than I usually go for.

  3. In these days of rain I am leaning a bit heavy on the internet. I have come and gone and come to this poem quite a few times. Where I had been incurious, I become curious and more curious. In the dark so much is left unseen. Generally your poems become known to me gradually, always with the feel of space — up, down, knob and texture — before I have any idea what it is I am clambering upon. Yes, I feel them that way before I even begin to see them.

  4. Dave, this poem is a real treat! I love the scene in the coal mine. I am particularly fond of such underground meetings. Tell me more about what was going on down there. I know you know! El Laberinto del Fauno(Pan’s Labarynth) had some great underground scenes. Carlos Fuentes wrote a short story called ” Reasonable People”. It was in Constancia and Other Virgins. In the story there is a scene that takes place in a cave at a construction site in Mecxico City. A bunch of cadaver like nuns…..Anyway I like underground scenes. And this one that you wrote is great!

  5. “Inheritance” juxtaposed with your previous poem “In the Gardenâ€? is especially poignant. One man goes out with a bang, and the other gradually calcifies, with probably nary a whimper. The image of the door in one and the mine in the other is perfect. Liviu Librescu, if he’d had a choice, would probably have preferred it the way it happened. This new poem, however, reflects a lifestyle with which I’m more familiar. I come from cave and limestone mining country. I watched my elders, some of whom spoke little in the first place, slowly calcifying, from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, or just gradual diminution of faculties. I still dream of them, years after they have passed and in the dream sometimes I sit and discuss with them what it was like for us when they died.

  6. A fine balance of the matter-of-fact & deeper resonances, Dave. With recent meditations on age still in mind, this struck a chord.

  7. Oh gosh, thanks for all the additional comments! I persist in feeling that this one is kind of ragged, but I’m glad to hear that it resonated with you all.

    Fred – I’m not sure how we ended up in that mine, to be honest. I haven’t read the Fuentes story you mention, but I have read a bit about mesoamerican ideas of the underworld-afterlife, to which caves and certain springs were regarded as literal portals. I suppose something like that was going on in the dream.

    Joan – In reality, Pop-pop declined fairly rapidly, and his last few days were painful before he slipped into a coma. But before that, he was a big talker – as most people in my family were (and are), on both sides. We’re not taciturn folk. So that made the dream that much odder.

    It sounds as if you have a very vivid dreamlife.

  8. Like gautami, I too was compelled to read your poem twice. Such a deep and moving piece that I felt drawn to remember my Pop, who died recently as “animation-less”. Loved the imagery – just beautiful.

  9. Hm. Interesting. I like the images–and the stalactite nose made me laugh because it fit so perfectly with the cave and with real-life Pop. But any real interpretation is muddled with my own memories, of course! The Pop-pop of my memory seemed larger-than-life, and it is his voice I remember most vividly. So the first lines are sharp, arresting, fascinating…but, oh, so sad.

  10. Hi all – Thanks for visiting. I really appreciate the feedback.

    Jennifer – I was afraid this poem might make other family members react with horror. I’m glad you found a few things here that resonated with you.

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