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Suitcase Song

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John-O was given a key to the apartment. The deal
was this: if Phil died suddenly, and John-O heard,
he would rush on over, enter the apartment, leave
unseen with Phil’s brown suitcase, and secretly pitch it
into the mounded deeps of the city dump.
Simply, there were things that Phil didn’t want
to hurt his family with. Do you have yours?
I have mine. The brown suitcase. Sasha’s sister,
on her deathbed—dinky, frail, just a mild
skim-milk trickle of a hospice patient—
tensed, sat up, and unloosed
such confessional invective that it seemed the walls
and the sheets would have to be splattered in shit,
her cancer having acted with the harsh, disbursing
force of a tornado on the brown and hard-shelled
suitcase in her electrochemical memory webs.
Is yours secure? from love? from sodium pentathol?
Last year, when a tornado hit our fringe
of downtown businesses, the air was alive for counties around
with the downward dance of naked canceled checks,
handwritten notes, hotel receipts, e-mail transcripts,
smeary Polaroids, a swirl of lacy underwisps
that jellyfished the skies, and from The G-Spot Shoppe
a rain of plastic pleasure aids, of which one prime example
pierced a cow between the eyes and struck her dead.

Maybe AIDS—I wasn’t sure. But he was dying,
that was sure: as dry as a stick of human chalk,
and making the terrible scritch-sound of a stick of chalk,
in his throat, in the community air, in the room
across from Sasha’s sister. Something . . . hidden
in the trace of rundown aura still around him
as we chatted there one morning . . . a tv? a sissyboy tv?
I wasn’t sure, but it was obvious
his life-chalk held a story not yet written,
not confessed yet
for this storyniverous planet.
And when I remembered my mother’s own
last days . . . the way a person is a narrative,
the strength of which is either
revelation or withholding. It was summer, and the garden
at the nursing home was fat with summer’s pleasures:
flowered mounds like reefs of coral,
bees as globular as whole yolks.
In her room, my mother disappeared a breath
at a time, and everything else was only a kind of scenery for that.
The wink of pollen in the light. The birds. Their feather-lice.
The bursting spores. Those opened-up
cicada husks abandoned on the patio
—the small, brown, unlocked luggage
that’s completed its work in this world.

Albert Goldbarth, “Suitcase Song” from Saving Lives. Copyright © 2001 by Albert Goldbarth. Reprinted with the permission of The Ohio State University Press, www.ohiostatepress.org.
Source: Saving Lives (The Ohio State University Press, 2001)

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

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Suitcase Song

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