Months after I had cleared her clothes from our apartment
and delivered them to a homeless shelter as was her wish,
I drove to our cabin in the mountains to gather her last shirts
and sweaters, socks and tights, sneakers and slippers. I was
weary of all the searching, finding, sorting, folding. Weary even
of the touching. I could not stomach one more trip for charity.
Death, you see, had made me a coward. I just jammed everything
in three thirty-gallon black plastic bags, which I tied off tightly,
left for next morning pick-up at the end of the driveway,
flanked by six-foot banks of ice-skinned snow. An hour’s nap later
I saw through the window that crows had come, torn open the bags,
dragged their contents all over, confused perhaps by wisps
of sweat and perfume, thinking who in his right mind would put
anything but chicken bones and pizza crust in such beguiling sacks.
One had her lace panties in its beak, shaking it like a battle flag.
Another was chewing the sleeve of her pineapple tee shirt.
A third was back at the bags, manically scrounging for more.
I walked out calmly with a shovel. The birds flew away.
I had visions of leaving it all for a next storm to bury,
re-collecting the debris after spring thaw and burning it into
a biblical pillar of smoke, soaking the ashes in the stream out back.
Instead, I climbed the crusted banks, roamed the neighbors’ yards
and snowbound streets, picked up the pieces, placed and cinched them
in new bags, left them as before. The birds came again and again.
Again and again I gathered, each time working more slowly, each time
the pieces smaller. Until the sun was gone and I stood by the last bags
I owned, slightly less full. I stood there all night, the crows laughing
and I laughing back, their amber eyes flashing in the new moon dark,
neither stupid nor cruel, though I had thought them both.
At first light, men with boots and gloves came in a green truck.
One said Good Morning. Another took the bags away.
Ken Haas lives in San Francisco where he works in healthcare and sponsors a poetry writing program at the UCSF Children’s Hospital. His first book, Borrowed Light, won the 2020 Red Mountain Press Discovery Award, won a 2021 prize from the National Federation of Press Women and was shortlisted for the 2021 Rubery Book Award. Ken has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has won the Betsy Colquitt Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in over 50 journals and numerous anthologies. Please visit him online at http://kenhaas.org.
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