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Alive, and Otherwise

Alive you see the sycamores pale against the deep blue sky
You see the icy water tumbling over snow-covered rocks
And the wren-brown trees climbing the hill above the creek
You see the sun fleeing over that hill
Pulling in its yellow rays
Flaming, then subsiding

You see people, swaddled and scurrying,
Dodging puddles, scarcely looking up
They’re thinking of home, you tell yourself
Of the dinner that will wait for them
Of the mate or neighbor naked
Between the sheets in the hot dark

With death all that goes black, as if a fuse just blew
You’re plunged into inkiness and murk
When will the lights go up again?

And then you’re driving into town and all the lights are green
Your Fiat is a Ferrari, the familiar roads, Le Mans
And you find a parking spot at your doctor’s building
And the receptionist tells you your colonoscopy
Has been cancelled
Because you’re young again

She looks you in the eye, twists her hair, and chews her lip
She sees you and doesn’t call you sir

The teller at the bank blushes when you ask her
How long it takes to create that work of art
That is her corn-rowed hair?
Half a day, she says, glancing up
To see who’s asking
How long before you let it down again, you ask
A few months, to let it breathe a while
And in the meantime?
Is it dry-clean only, your lovely hair?
No, she laughs, and pushes your cash across the counter

No—that happened today, in life
That really happened
While the people dodged the puddles
And the icy water tumbled over rocks
And you bought some bread and magazines
And ate oysters and bourride and conversed
With your old friend in the din of La Piquette

But in death the teller would reveal herself
Would lie cocoa brown on velvet
The cornrows scattered like pick-up-sticks
Her lids lowered, lips apart
Her legs like croquet wickets
In springy turf

And she would know all your names
Know all the men you were
And who you had tried to be
She would hold your head as you
Wept into her neck about your boy who died
And thrust yourself into her as if trying to return
To the time before that death
Before all your defeats
When each morning was the first of your life