My mother lived in the company of two women,
One to each side of our small frame house.
Mid-way through the mornings of hot summer days,
They would gather, encountering the pace
Of each other's day, husbands held at a distance.
The heat would hang high in the elms,
The air heavy with the season's poison.
At night I would listen to my parents' voices,
Imagining that mode-like seed miasmic polio.
With slow presentiment, mother waxes the table,
Rubs in circles, in slow movements, her figure
Loose and tired, or stands stone-faced behind
Her white gauze curtains, whispering their names,
Praying for a breeze, a motion, a relief from something
She has learned to fear, the slow frost in nerves,
Believing cruelty is in the weather, is in her
Intimacy with fear, is in their jangled lives,
Two other women and our life in between going gray:
One with a left arm withered, a stammer, the other
A right arm and wrist in a steel brace, a stammer.
On the table, a water pitcher sweats, the vacuum
Sucks dregs of dust, aspirates along the wainscot.
When the phone rings, mother goes sour in the mouth.
Father, who is sitting in his chair, says nothing,
Then rises to steady the convulsions in her hands.
THE LAST PRAYER OF SAINT EUSTRATIUS
Tennessee, the moon full before
The stealthy seep of daylight,
The murmur of the motor as the boat
Moves against the prevailing current.
We are here with a friend's ashes,
Urned for keeping at his request.
We are coursing northeast, up the
Cumberland, Hendersonville, LaGuardo,
A little further then we'll stop,
Unseal his urn, the little bronze crypt,
Within his dust, final gray particulars
We'll slowly pour on the river's slick.
His widow is in the front, weighted
With a heavy woolen coat, her thoughts
Spilling out with all the sifting still
Unnumbered remembered days and nights.
She moves to hand me the urn, surprisingly
Heavy and warm to my ungloved hands.
I whisper to her that I'm sorry that
I'm at a loss for words and prayers.
The ashes smudge the water's shining,
Spreading everywhere like sifting smoke
Drifting away along the southwest current.
They move as if in rhythmical consonance
Just as morning light passes through
The trees along the river, the water
Golden now, better now, uncrypted now,
Bound to places of devotion by the sea.
Standing with my friend in his garage,
We look at things left over:
Hose connections, extension cords,
Kitchen utensils, power tools,
Twenty years of memorabilia.
His house has sold,
Not for a high price;
He's glad to be out from under it.
Another friend, Richard, will take his dog.
Somehow, I say, I always thought
You and the dog would go together.
It's a bad joke and I tighten my lip.
He hands me a snow shovel
And points to the reels of garden hose.
Kay, he says, wants the leaf blower.
Dread drifts like fog around my heart.
He's got enough now what with the house,
His father's inheritance,
For a couple of years, maybe four.
The lids of my eyes close with his.
Guilt, I want to say, belongs to time;
We must learn to leave it with time.
I know some night the phone will ring;
A cascade of pain will come.
Another out-manuvered man
Skirmishing with his own ill-luck
Waking in the darkness of the resurrection.
Author Daniel James Sundahl is Professor in English and American Studies at Hillsdale College where he has taught for thirty years. This is his first appearance in Offcourse.