As Though the Dead

by Peter Schireson

I watched my brother ailing,
kneeling in a soundproof room
mistaking himself for the devil,
and the silence clinched me to him
and I felt
as though the dead were watching him with me,
and when I scattered his ashes
under the oak at the edge of a broad rolling field
that Fall, a breeze spun up from the south
and the dry oak leaves applauded.
The dead were enjoying the afternoon.
At my father’s funeral, an arc of mourners
dressed in gray knelt by his graveside and prayed
and sang his name in their native language,
which I could not understand, then sobbing
climbed down in his grave, as though the dead
had invited them into the earth, one by one.
I sense they have something urgent to tell me.
In the museum, a Neanderthal woman’s head
in a case shouted at me through the glass,
thrusted her jaw, a grimace, a message.
Some mornings I awaken and feel
they’ve staked a claim on my day.
Nothing goes right.
I callin sick, and I drink.
Mistake follows mistake
so that I dread
even the sea as though the dead
command the barges spewing crude
from beginningless time, the living
barely afloat, adrift in skiffs & bobbing
on rafts in oily chop between the shipping lanes.
Now I dream only of flying,
wanting to reach my mother
before she dies, as though the dead
are competing with me
for her company.
There was a time when I refused to fly.
Leave the crude beneath
the ocean floor, I said, and so for a time, I lived
without a car. For a time I refused to ride in cars,
and, for a time, I lived in a car.