Breathing in Reverse (Parts I-VI)

offering 4

by Steven Hendrix

or Twelve Parts Grief

I. A two-year-old sees a mirage

“That’s not your daddy. That’s a black man walking down the street.”
“That’s not your daddy. That’s a black man playing basketball in the park.”
“Where is Daddy?”
“Your daddy is the wind that blows through you briefly
and carries pieces of you away with it quickly,
the cold that grips your bones, pulls at them,
almost knocking you down,
the absence felt in the deepest recesses of your soul
and crawling through the deepest pores of your skin.”
“Daddy will come back.”
“No. Your daddy will never come back.”
“Daddy will come back.”

II. Borrowed time

We return to the site of my birth
St Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach
to wait patiently, to wait impatiently
while my uncle undergoes surgery
to remove a basketball-sized tumor
from his liver, hoping, praying,
that it would not be the site of his death.

And we grip tight the rosaries the nuns have loaned us
and we recite cautiously the words the nuns have loaned us
Hail Mary full of grace, the lord is with thee
because it seems the right thing to do in this place.

And my cousin prays her grandfather will not leave her, too,
and she makes promises to God that she knows she cannot keep,
and it works, or something works, because the doctors tell us he will live,
and we don’t know at the time it will only be for ten more years,
and at the time ten more years would have seemed a long time,
and now it doesn’t seem long at all.

III. The poet thinks he defines grief

Grief is snow melting on mountaintops
when all it wants to do is remain frozen;
Grief is a raindrop falling from a cloud
before it has a chance to say goodbye;
Grief is a ray of sunshine stopped by the shutters
before it can reach the rhododendron;
Grief is the watch that stops, never to be wound again;
the gallows erected and never used;
the gallows erected and then used;
the match that breaks;
the match that burns down the house;
the sum of the distance
between the sun,
the moon,
and the star
that flickered out two million years ago;


IV. For love of animals

My uncle buys a dog.
She farts and makes him laugh,
she licks his face and makes him laugh,
something none of the rest of us could ever get away with.

V. For love of cars

My uncle buys a Porsche.
He races against death.
He loses, but he loves the race.

VI. The poet reacts to his uncle’s death

I unclench my fists,
take a deep, unnatural breath,
then clench my fists again.
I have no words.

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