for TNH

There are those who will never return to us
as we knew them. Who if they return at all
visit our sleep, or daydreams, or turn up in the features
of total strangers. Or greet us face to face
in the middle of some rush hour street,
but from a great distance—and not in the full flush
of bodies that once wanted nothing more from us
than the laying of our hands upon them,
as a healer lays hands upon the afflicted.
There are those who by their absence are an affliction.
I imagine that sometimes in your dark bed
you still want to know why. Why the man
you were just coming to love, who liked you close
as he raced through the city at night, why
he had to swerve suddenly. Why he had to end up
on an operating table, dead. Why you of all people
had to live, to repeat this unanswerable question.
I could tell you about a woman good at ritual
who, hardly believing in herself, was good
at making vows the two of us could believe.
Then one day I had to drive her to an early flight.
The dawn was blinding. She was off to look for the soul
no one else could provide. But was this the way
to do it? She didn’t know. She wanted me
to tell her. Tears down her face. And I kept driving.
I can look back and say: on that day, that’s when I died.
Since then, you and I have had a hard time believing
anything could bring us back. And yet your brown body
breathes new life into a cotton print from the fifties,
and picks parsley from the garden for spaghetti carbonara,
and cues up Mozart’s French horn solo, and fills up the kitchen
with the aroma of sourdough, and gets my body to anticipate
the taste of malt as the tops of American beer cans pop:
good rituals all, because they waited out our every loss, patient
with the slow coming back to our senses, undeterred by our neglect.
As if they knew all along how much we would need them.

Thomas Centolella, "Anti-Elegy" from Terra Firma.  Copyright © 1990 by Thomas Centolella.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press,,
Source: Terra Firma (Copper Canyon Press, 1990)
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