Come Winter

Sally Ball

Sometimes I’m not sure whether I want to talk to
or about the dead— 

In the memorial garden, the minister
had already spread the ashes,
as we’d asked. He showed us
where: beneath the ivy
and the pachysandra, easier to look
because of that green filter, that veil.
I’d almost come late, and my heart
raced with rage-at-the-delay
that was really panic-about-the-event.
Your body in the pachysandra—no, your remains.
The flagstones, the pine with generous boughs.
Traffic rumbled behind a wall of shrubs.

I wanted never
to stop
thinking toward you. 

I decided I did, after all, want to touch
what we’d been given to touch.
I knelt and pressed my hand
into the loosely turned earth and ash.
One hand that would go,
and one that wouldn’t, rigid at my side. 

The two youngest boys came quickly
to the spot and knelt, like me, and each one
also pressed one hand into the ground.
And looked at me. And squeezed his hand
and brushed it clean as best he could
using only those same fingers, that one hand. 

They were eight, cousins, tight.
My son pressed his palm into mine,
and I tried to think of what it meant,
our palms like that, the not-dry
not-familiar clay pressed in between.
To mark each other, or to draw
grief into the flesh, as with a cream. 

When he let go, I pressed my own two hands
together—spent the day furtively
pressing palm to collarbone, palm to forehead, cheek. 

All day when my son came to see me, checking in,
(in the pew, at the reception)
he always clasped that hand with his. 

That’s one of the first things you missed.
Along with the look
they gave each other: co-conspirators,
boys who giggled the night before,
standing a nervous distance from the man
(embalmed, tuxedoed, looking
like a groom tipped over on a cake)
whose casket stood waiting, alone in an adjacent room,
for the service after ours.