We say a heart breaks—like
a stick, maybe, or a bottle
or a wave. But it seems, too,
like the consuming flame
of a moment, the field clump
that crackles upward from a match
and collapses, grass filaments
glowing in the ash-dust
then going out. Today
I take myself down by steps,
one at a time, into the sadness
I admit I can’t always reach.
There should be a room
at the bottom of the black stairway,
my friends sitting with strangers,
waiting, but there’s no one,
only the memory, when
the pale air flickers as if
it were an invisible flame,
of my aunt in her hospital bed
and beside her, about to be left
alone—the last sister, and so soon—
my mother, bent over
the purse in her lap, eyes closed.
I can see the patent leather gloss
and the shiny clasp that until
just now she had been
snapping open and shut, till—
just now—it broke. That breaking—
like a voice that cracks, cursing
or crying, or the song that falls,
out of thinking too far ahead,
into a smoldering loneliness—
was that the sound of the heart?
Three women climb from the car
in which they have driven slowly
into the churchyard.
They come toward us, to see
what we are doing.
What we are doing
is reading the strange,
of the dead.
One of the women
speaks to us-
after we speak to her.
She walks with us and shows us,
with downward-thrust finger,
which of the dead where her people.
She tells us
about two brothers, and an argument,
and a gun-she points
to one of the slabs
on which there is a name,
some scripture, a handful of red
plastic flowers. We ask her
about the other brother.
"Chain gang," she says,
as you or I might say
"Des Moines," or "New Haven." And then,
"Look around all you want."
The younger woman stands back, in the stiff weeds,
like a banked fire.
The third one-
the oldest human being we have ever seen in our lives-
suddenly drops to the dirt
and begins to cry. Clearly
she is blind, and clearly
she can't rise, but they lift her, like a child,
and lead her away, across the graves, as though
as old as anything could ever be, she was, finally,
perfectly finished, perfectly heartbroken, perfectly wild.