The Merest Pleasures

From now on, you say, whenever we come
To this hot-dog restaurant, I will give you
One of the white-and-red round candies that is in my bag
And, you explain, I will always bring two quarters
To buy a very bouncy ball from the machine where
You turn the silver handle really hard and then
Open the little door

There you go again, rewriting the rules
Bending the world to your will
Wrapping us around your sticky little fingers

Oh, for another first taste of peppermint
To feel its sweet sting on my virgin tongue
To twirl the dwindling disc from side to side
And bite off tiny shards that melt in my mouth
Oh, to set my buoyant ball on its maiden
Voyage to the ground with all the force
My little body could muster
Then bounding high into the sky
Taller even than the tree
That is in our front yard

Oh, to believe again that all I could ever want
Is within my grasp
To require the merest pleasures—
A mother’s voice, a father’s hand—
To know no limits, and to have felt
So few of life’s lacerations
Oh, to say a thing and my grown-up makes it so!
And, when crossing, to be warned about letting go

“What a lovely boy you have,” your Papa told me
As he closed the book on story time
You scooched off his lap, careful as you could be
To avoid the tubing from the oxygen tank
When sliding down his swollen, blood-clotted legs

Papa died, I say, because he had the kind of sickness
The doctors do not know how to fix yet
Then a special thing was done to make him so tiny—
It did not hurt, I assure you—
That he fits in a beautiful case up on Nana’s shelf
In the darkness of quiet time
You have asked and so I say
Papa is very small now
You are bigger every day

∞             ∞             ∞

The lawyer felt bad to ask about timing, but he did it anyway
“I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think he’s going to die tomorrow,”
I said, on the day before Papa died

That night we put on a fresh diaper and told him to get some rest
When the nurse went away, we laughed with relief
At another hospice day put to bed

“I love you,” I said, with a kiss on the head
And walked toward the door
The other words that we needed were already said
In the hospital two weeks before

The next morning, Nana called as I stepped in the shower
She said, “He’s not breathing—what do I do?”
I told her that’s what we expected

∞             ∞             ∞

From now on at dinner, you tell me, after four more bites
You will always get two treats from your treat bucket
Not just one, you explain, but two treats from the bucket
That has the lollipops and the chocolate eggs and the M&M’s
And the white-and-red round candies
Always and from now on

Before I was as big as I am now
But not so little as you are today
I thought about always and forever
Being stuck in a darkness that does not end—
I was afraid
Then I grew and grew and grew and grew
And learned that when you are dead
You cannot think or see or hear, taste or touch or smell
Wherever death is, you are not
It is quiet time, always and from then on
And I was pacified

Now I am all grown up (and out)
And I have too many days that bring me back
To what was and can never be
A day in the park, the crack of the bat
A trip down the slide and a shove on the swing
The plink of a piano and the pluck of a guitar string
So much I have is smothered by absence
That is present in every way
Papa is very small now
You are bigger every day

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