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Mortuary Files

I put on the locket

that I bought when my parents nearly divorced

and mourned you

although you had not died


I don’t rank the people I’ve lost

they’re just an archipelago of scars in my mind


In no particular order:


There’s K, the former stripper and aerialist

full of storms and fighting wit and pain


O, wry and small and deep-voiced

with beautiful insincere eyes


A different K, her fragrant hair like a summer storm

and shifting brown eyes

and heady cigarette kisses, her grey halo


T and L, a milkmaid and a fairy tale princess

one a competitor and one

a lost love


S, with hard firm eyes and

strong opinions;

tea, and tobacco, and a warm laugh


Some were friends, some were lovers—

or something like it—


I haven’t counted every fallen robin

(to steal from a better poet)

but the strafes and near misses score my heart anyway


And now my regard and respect for you

adds a headstone to the rows

perhaps I should have known better, but


whisper networks are like telegrams were; they travel fast

but sometimes, not fast enough

and when you need them, they’re too late


So the things that other people knew before

are things that I’m only learning now


If I’d known them then, would I ever have

seen the magic in your words

or just the plywood and glue and nails and paint

of hollow setpieces


Burning it all wouldn’t scour your fingerprints from my clay

I guess I’ll forever have to say “good art, bad person”

but now I wonder how good the art really was in the first place


All the awards in the literary world

don’t add up to therapy


(and on its own, therapy

Is not always good, or enough)


I don’t need for the people I love and admire

to be perfect

or even to know who I am


But I wish I’d trusted the madwoman in the attic

because you made your father’s mistake

and I guess it

Runs in the Family


I have my own stories and poems to write

and a beautiful new child to attend to

and beloveds

and friends

and an art collective

and an online community

and an immense, overflowing stack of books to read

by people that aren’t you


but the people I’ve lost pull me back to

grey and ashes and sepia


and sometimes, it’s important

to count what has been lost.

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