Breathing in Reverse (Part VII-XII)

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By Steve Hendrix

or Twelve Parts Grief

VII. A grown child dreams in reverse

Her mother and father are reunited,
she lies cradled in her father’s dark arms,
her mother’s pale hand runs
through her silky, straight hair that has never
been doused with tear-creating chemicals.
She doesn’t look like a little boy in this dream,
she isn’t mixed by her race in this place,
she doesn’t question her identity here,
she knows who she is, she is a daughter,
but only here, only now, in this moment.

VIII. The poet contemplates grief in the dead form of the sonnet

Does the tree mourn the leaf that separates
in dry detachment from its limb’s embrace
riding the air with an elliptic grace
having achieved every living creature’s fate;
or does it celebrate through the lens of dim
remembrance the vibrant green shimmering
against the strands of time, dance and sing
in the crisp breeze a soulful dirge less grim
than the somber notes of abandonment;
does the soil speak through the root a word
of reassurance knowing the fallen leaf
will become the song of a future spring sent
echoing through ages by the chirping bird;
or does it share my cryogenic grief?

IX. For love of humans

She whines as the body bag is carried down the stairs,
she whines as the body bag is carried from the home,
she nudges it with her nose as it passes, tries to follow it,
paces along the path it has taken, and whines long after it is gone.

The goddamn dog
knows how to grieve
better than I do.

X. Dishes still need to be washed

My cousin presses the sponge hard
along the surface of the ceramic plate
the tips of her fingers turning red
long after the remnants of food
and bacteria have disappeared
and long after the last tear has dried.

XI. The poet contemplates his own mortality

I stand in front of the bathroom mirror
washing my hands in the sink
the warm water running over them
I stare at my face and look for signs of age
I stare at my face and look for signs of my uncle
I stare at my face and look for signs of life
the water continues to run.

XII. The prodigal father returns

We stand in front of the incinerator as my uncle is placed inside,
the flames jumping out and chilling our bones,
a cold so deep that it makes us stumble without moving,
we hold our coats tight to our bodies,
grip our hearts, our heads, our tears, our grief
to keep them from blowing away
as the winds kick up leaves and ash and particles of earth
that wash over us, cleanse us of our purity.
My cousin looks over at me,
“See, I told you he would come back.”

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