Stages I’ve Been Avoiding
—after Harold and Maud; after Etheridge Knight
Guess I’d rather watch
a movie— the one
with an old woman
who chucks her young
love’s token into a bay.
So we’ll always know
where it is, she says,
her wisdom gesturing
toward night, life beyond
trinkets, which makes me
wonder if the rock
I have yet to place
on my mother’s
Do stone pillow
remains or simply
locate the obscurities
my mother bequeaths?
Can a marker hold
that many lifelong
questions in its grooves?
My mother, queen
of all things demanding
gone now for months,
but her superstition
and cheap perfume
overlook the vast
I have yet to visit
a grave as glorious.
When I pay respects,
I lay in the grass next
to her and the dead
whose prints have yet
to dissolve into mud.
Broken bottle dust collected
all around us—
Partied & rocked on
with grief glass, and
found no counsel from
the dead headstones.
O shattered cliché and crunchy lawns
Sparkled across the dearly departed—
Please, fetch me a pool to cry into before
My cousin calls from the deep delta to say,
Your daddy’s plot needs some love.
Please get me before distance is the one
I want to clap on the chin like the roughnecks
In movies: fists, teeth, hot-ass breath
swinging and tearing shit up—
But, then again, who am I to be mad
At anyone willing to tend to my father’s
Grave? My cousin’s complaints mow the love
Blades and love tufts of Ridley Hill.
She’s poured enough beer into dense turf
To juice pops and his neighboring haints
Good & drunk.
But this is supposed to be
About mom and not tears fizzing
Into Mississippi dirt. Haven’t I
Taken enough time needed for him?
Or am I still rebuking?
A colleague told me a story of picking grapes as therapy.
The healer he went to see after the passing of his own mother, pointed toward fields and
fields of vines that needed caregiving.
Go pick until you’re ready to talk, the sage told him.
Even though he called that time of his life: the year of good grapes, and better baskets,
I’ve forgotten all his descriptors for grim work or harsh heat.
I can’t remember any varietals this coworker handled as he walked miles and miles of
sweet grass and dirt filled lanes.
But what I do recall are his hands motioning a tender and careful clip.
He closed his eyes to show an easy yet make-believe pluck.
I had to keep the rest of the vine fresh for next year’s harvest, he told me, and I knew his
hurt was only recently gone.
Fuck fables, fictions, and lies. Fuck jokes. Fuck Minnie
Ripperton and her memory lane, too. Fuck music
and audio self-help books. Fuck a poem and the poets
that accompany (they get it, but you’re not ready
for their shared desolation). Fuck reanimation Jitsu
and juju. And since a prayer is a spell laced
in faith, fuck it too. Fuck any attempts to balloon you out
of this unbearable misery where grief and her stages walk
a tad bit behind, waiting for you to trip up. Fuck a safety
net or cushion. Fuck band-aides or slow medication, Fuck any
pampering. Fuck the whole damn thing— except:
when your brother calls; or
when your friend sends you a birthday card because
this is your first birthday without her; or
when your sister praises your skill keeping mom’s grave clean; or
when your oldest daughter holds your newest baby, her cooing sister;
when two daughters, their tiny noise up the heather gray wall,
where their laughter settles
on a spot just above family
portraits; a spot for years
you could only see
shadows; and now, gilded for all—
your mother’s dimples,
right where you left them.
right where you left them.