cat funeral

i am pulling the kayak from the lake
when i see it: dead cat, mossy and waterheavy,
body pillowed almost unrecognizable. white paws
stick out from it’s body like a child’s drawing: circle
with four lines. i want a shovel and a piece of quiet
dirt but i also want to give a good wringing, twisting
out the wet until matted but living. my wrists are
not strong enough to wring water from lungs.
i think about the world like this: i am always
the deficit. i can’t pin this accident to a clothesline.
the cat bumps against the rocks and says nothing.

the blue-green algae is blooming poison. it’s the biggest bloom
anyone can remember. the water looks walkable, solid with green.
i think it is the whole lake in mourning for this dead thing, a field
of tiny flowers, the procession moving in ripples. nature knows
how to throw a funeral. the water climbs over my sandals and it’s all
the same. toes water is dead cat water is every water in this big hole.
i can’t help but feel too late. i am not responsible for everything
i could have prevented but it knocks around behind my chest
all the same. i can’t tell which end is the head. it must be hard to die
out in the open.

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playing at death

it was like this: i hear five-year old footsteps
and drape myself off the edge of the bed
eyes rolled like white marbles for his discovery.
he walks into the room. first he says kiyoko
i know you are ok get up ‘yoko helloooo
then he says kiyoko? you okay?
and pokes me in the cheek. it is hard
not to laugh but that would ruin it, this joke
we are sharing. his voice rises
and i can hear the crying building
in his throat. ‘yoko stop it get up. please.
get up. it is amazing how young
children recognize death. it is just the two of us
in this big house and he can’t reach the phone.
i am still holding my breath. it hurts
but it is worth it. this is not a joke
this is about power, about being older
and smarter and able to be so still.
he is crying now, really crying
the kind that only little kids do. it takes
their whole bodies working at the grief.
suddenly it’s over, the thrill of the whole thing;
it’s just the two of us in this big house
and i ruined it. i unroll my eyes and get up,
hugging his boy shoulders saying sorry
i’m sorry i don’t know why i did that but i know
i’ll do it again and he isn’t mad.
he’s just happy that i am okay
and that is the worst part.

how anyone finds out about anything

my senior year of college, a friend of mine
whose coffee order i knew and liked
how her lips struggled around
her braces – her boyfriend died.
i found out via facebook – the same way
i learned who was getting married and
what to eat for breakfast. she posted
a picture of the two of them laying
atop a picnic blanket on their backs.
they looked like beetles – limbs
too tired to move. their frame of vision:
all sky.

i called  to tell her i couldn’t imagine
what she felt, to tell her i was sorry
for not being able to understand but mostly
just relieved. still, i wanted to know,
in the way that we all like to be a little
close to death sometimes, what
it was like to lose something you have
done so well at holding on to.

do you still take the time to peel
off the white flesh encasing
the grapefruit, does it still give you the sweet
after the bitter? how do your small shoulders
bear the weight of the entire bed?
have you changed the temperature
of the shower water, or has your body become
something you are afraid to get wet,
a collector’s item, worth more because
he can no longer love you?

death in the family

he calls at seven pm to tell me.
when i see “dad” on the screen i get nervous –
he calls when someone dies, the only
thing he thinks isn’t proper to say in an email.

it is a process of elimination: not mom, she just
texted me an hour ago. not brother, mom would
call first. answer.

grandpa hank finally died. died in his sleep.
heart had been beating only 35 times a minute
for weeks. a medical mystery how he lasted this long.

tongue feels like a trowel in my mouth.
ah. bummer. 
he says, we both know it isn’t.
tongue starts to dig its way down my throat.

Hope.

what do you say when an ex lover dies.

calling her an ex lover might be generous, because ex lover implies that i ever loved her, but neither of us knows if i did. trying to remember every moment with her in it. i think of almost sex in a hotel stairwell but hesitant to hold hands in sunlight, of her grinning inside every taco bell in our little city, of fish and latin and mountain dew and how much she loves graveyards.

how the first time we were naked, i mean really naked, we were parked off the path of the fountain city cemetery. neither of us knew how to love another girl. our bodies were complicated things we didn’t understand ourselves. we stayed inside each other until our legs grew stiff. left love marks like dogs pissing on their favorite tree. after, we sat with our backs against the curved stones and made circles in the dirt with our fingers. i imagined we were practicing for next time.

how it is easier to remember her in pieces – the frames through a needle eye. first: her nipples between thumb and forefinger, a pinch of salt; the only fat on her body beneath the skin of her cheeks, the corners of her smile melting like warm butter. then: her stomach dotted with tiny holes, bloody freckles as doorways for insulin; knees smeared with carpet burn.

how i wore a button down and learned to knot a tie, and she mentioned she prefers me in t-shirts. the next day, she kissed me against the English wing lockers for the first time. she smells like brown bag bananas left overnight. nobody stops to look, but everybody walks on the other side of the hallway. gym teacher shaped like a bowling ball sees us. wordlessly passes a boy and girl gagging on each others tongues. walks up to us. “Too much PDA,” he says. “no one wants to see that. go to class.” we have a hard time talking that night. i want to tell her that i want to see it, her. no wonder we have a hard time unwrapping the packages we come in.

how the last time we were together in a cemetery, the back of her hand outlined itself on my cheek. One ripped nail left a series of blood spots like stippling. she split in two in front of me: one licks the cut clean, rubs me dry with her fingers. the other uses teeth instead of tongue, bites like a scared dog.

she told me once she knew she’d die before she was thirty, so she needed to eat as much taco bell, listen to as much blake shelton, and get her hands on as many pretty girls as she could. she winked. i don’t remember now what I said. or maybe i choose not to.

blood blisters

a week ago i wrote a poem about a girl turned woman –
the daughter of a friend –
who tugged my hair into neat little rows,
made a 10 year old girl happy because
i didn’t have to wash or brush it for a week.
the pin pricks on my scalp every time she folded
another strand into the braid was a victory,
my striped head the trophy.
some times there were dots like blood blisters
in clusters on her arms,
other times i saw her teeth when she smiled.

five days ago girl turned woman turned corpse.
i pull my own hair to try and remember.
it doesn’t work.
i make one big braid instead of a dozen little ones.
it looks slick with grease, does not save me
a week of washing.

a clot small enough to rest on the end
of my finger stuck in the softness
in her skull, her mother finds her nested
in summer sheets, no dots like blood blisters,
but a baby cradled in the crook of her arm.