On Pattern

For Grandfather, in Bangkok

I can tell you, sweeping the several jigsaw lizards
         away from your casket, away from their expert
                   invasions, kneeling by the order of our births
alongside the mother-of-pearl mosaics,
         the family at your death keeps to form,
                  having to act out that love of endings.
I can say the little I know of how you lived
         is your patient gaze in old photographs,
                   surrounded by three generations, most of the spindling
offspring back from the States or Australia or wherever
          they’d been taken, children barely known but abided
                   on holidays. Today I’m told we have to place
pennies in the dead man’s mouth
         to remind us of the portions
                  left behind.
You pay the debt,
           someone says, you give your something solid back,
                     push your currency up against the open,

up against the father tongue. It’s the formal
            silence we love, the hush that’s planned,
                      the good answer,
monks, boyish and newly shorn, who know
         to whip your burial cloth exactly three times
                   over the altar flame to purify countless threads.
Who know when to kneel, when to back away
         from the casket. The casket itself carved
                   patiently, inlaid with the images,
portions left behind of silver
          shrunken disciples, each framed to each then
                             framed again by
squares of alabaster scrollwork
                   whittled into black wood:
                             the whole teak surface worried,
Grandfather, with carpenter’s gold,
                           then resplintered, puzzled with lapis.
The eastern window’s been slivered open,
         to make the sun stab
                  the craftmen’s metallic fretwork.
The mourners too,
           suddenly embossed, become dozens shifting
                    to kneel. When a few clouds
eclipse the sun, wiping away the borders,
           the frame and scrimshaw,
                    so that we stand
         in the room’s darkened largeness,
                   next to me someone whispers,
how your vessel is rented,
         a work
             to be given back.

Pimone Triplett, "On Pattern" from Ruining the Picture. Copyright © 1998 by Pimone Triplett. Reprinted by permission of TriQuarterly Books.
Source: Ruining the Picture (TriQuarterly Books, 1998)
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