Like a Gift Passed Between Us
I wanted to ask if you could still imagine his body holding yours, your hair sprawled across the pillow like a crown— but I didn’t. I wanted to ask, Where are you, or, Where are you looking? How your eyes kept closing toward the other side. How I held my body just like his, without knowing. Mother, what do you remember that I am too afraid to ask? For months, I’d been taking the blue pills, halved with a dull blade pulled from a desk drawer in the tiny hours of morning. It has become ritual, like those nights where I saw my grief always as if from a window looking in, our hurried bodies slipping between rooms, out of view. I see the pillows arranged so carefully into a circle, I see us lighting the candles one at a time, saying our names, telling the other families how he died. Remember those nights we held hands over the center console driving home, those nights I’d cry out for you, and that quiet, like a gift passed between us, because there was nothing else to give? How terrible to be at the beginning of something ending. As if learning to speak meant learning how to leave, to disappear like a father. Step into the circle… if you feel like no one understands what you’re going through… if you still talk to the person you lost… if you’re still waiting for them to come back…
You noticed the pain months ago, imagined the polyps, thought to name them like daughters, that they would have disappeared by now. The nurse hands you a towel, and when you return from the bathroom, placing your feet into the stirrups, I feel as though I have been gifted something, like we have passed through a kind of threshold. I hold your bicep, as if from years away. You lie on the bed, not crying, and in the parking lot, after you’ve dressed, I assure you there’s nothing wrong. But what else is there to believe in? If not our pain, your tears drying on my sunlit shoulder, driving home. You say, Tell me a story, so I tell you about your childhood, moving between houses, apartments, rooms, beds. What you carry into each, lighter and lighter and lighter, until I am there and you are here, and then we both are. I’m thinking now of this poem, how you asked me to write it because you couldn’t, and what I want to say, here, that I can’t say lying beside you. That I believe our bodies are breathing for something else. That I want to feel like I am you, or as much of you as you are, or with you as much as a person can be with another, meaning, we could have felt utterly alone in those minutes. But isn’t it beautiful that these rooms where we leave and enter our lives—that it’s in these rooms where we inhabit one another completely, as if there was nothing but space for us, meaning these are not our last bodies, lifted, as if from a box of photographs in a child’s hands.
Michael Dhyne holds an MFA from the University of Virginia where he was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize. His work has been supported by the Community of Writers, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, where he was a work-study scholar. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, and The Rumpus, among others. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.