Late October I ministered your grave
Instead of calling home, the phone
An underwater cave
That droned your birthday monotone.
With topsoil, lily bulbs, and garden spade
I thought to cultivate your stone—
No matter, being dead
You couldn’t notice, would despise
This do-good task, guiltily belated,
An unbeliever’s compromise
To till from arid ash
And fragment bone a paradise.
Exhaling steam with every grunt I smashed
Thick clay, impossible to cut,
Your voice the buried rasp
Of tar inhaled, indelicate
Laughter hacking reverential silence:
What makes you think I give a shit?
I jammed both feet against
The hasp, burrowing the shovel,
Torqued left and right to disengage, then bent
To claw by hand a planting hole.
A damp flame seared my palm;
A blister ripped wept black and full.
Motherf—I stopped myself, abashed to calm,
Peeled gingerly the excess crust
And licked it clean, that balm
Appeasing your unquiet ghost.
Each pale bulb tamped against marauders’ teeth
I said goodbye, my witness lost.
The wound would heal, unsheathe
Its carapace to smooth the brand
Of skin stretched taut and red, the twinge beneath
Your touch, inhabiting my hand.