Nothing Left to Do
You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.
Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so you
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.
You paced in front of the open hearth,
forking your memory like a bale of hay.
Three doors down, the Russian neighbor
sang a drunken song. You hated his raspy
voice, his blatant disregard for the tune,
and you wanted to be there with him.
You would have cast off your own
murderous hand if you could have,
as it rose to wipe regret from your eyes
and came down covered with soot.
You knew it was fear, like you knew
you couldn’t return yesterday’s bland
morning, when people still looked
heavenward to soothe their anguish.
That’s not how things happened,
not for you. You left the apartment
and walked beneath tall, sprawling trees
that took root in the soil of your palms.
The streets had emptied. Lighted
windows passed you by and you tried
to guess how many hid your kind
of darkness. You envied the ones letting in
all that air scented with green.
You went back to the woods, where
the birds were just waking up,
where the roots with their obsession
with digging deep, and the branches
with their hunger for growing, and
the leaves with their thirst for drinking
up the sky were almost enough
to forget. And you let your grief shoot
up like a tree inside your body, you let it
splinter your bones and tangle you
lovingly by the neck, you let it rustle
into your ear how there was nothing,
nothing left to do, but dig.
First published in American Literary Review, Spring 2020