Fourth Wall

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

~ Mary Oliver

Would you like to be cremated? asks the niece of the woman propped up in the bed, ailing, waiting for her end to come— which could be this evening, tomorrow, the day after, the week after, next month. The undertaker and his sons explain the options and arrangements, what they will do, how they will wash and clean and dress, make the body ready for the family and community to come and view. Outside it is cold, it is winter, the tree line sharper than a drypoint etching on a metal plate. Someone is shoveling snow in a driveway, someone is splitting and stacking wood for the fire. When it is a child dying almost as soon as he is born— disjointed body and no sight— anyone can see there cannot be a bulky machine brought in to break up the earth. The undertaker knows that would be unseemly; and so he writes, Have the sexton, all dirt and indifference, remain at hand… The smell of loam is faintly sweet-sour, like milk left on the windowsill overnight. It could be love, it could be grief, it could be the end, the middle, the beginning, all equally lit and brilliant. Anyone can see how hard it is to slide the last button into its hole, push the box into the fiercely burning chamber. Still, the lips demand their carmine and their blush. Dusky limbs treasure the network of veins through which, so recently, the world plucked hard at the days’ bright threads. Goodbye for now, au revoir; know that each kiss I give you means so much more than fondness, uncertainty, or distress.


In response to thus: postage.

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