(For T.J., 1988-2008)

Courtesy of Megan Stilwell

Published: November 20, 2008


You were

the first to die, to grasp

infinity in its absence,

juicebox still in hand.

You swung away

on Southern Cross, your tiny,

democratic sweater wrung

around dead, precious

neck and every naked toenail

shone— those, your sisters’ diapers,

innumerable complaints and teas, oh

my, the soft, soft,

pale cakes of mothers—



I stagger, I summon your family

to ride unwritten on a Greyhound bus

criss-crossing chaos in blank

nation, through Jersey’s silver fields of fog

and the black hills of New England

which break my heart, to the wasted desert

and moon over Pacific, as the stars

fling themselves out, tear through

the space vacuum shock and

suffocation, while night eats

the last delicate crust of day.


And we don’t find you,

we wrench up the tiles

and dig there, our hands stained

by torment of clay soil, the unnamed

man’s blood-powder and cement;

the road stops, every

cobblestone lozenge on the tongue of street

rolls off, the twelve tractors idle and sink

into ascetic void, the bridges slack,

sea sucks up their cables, melts

incredible epoxies, breaks the bolts

and whips wire over drum

of water, beating bay, bedrock,

earthen breast and wound.


I beg them excruciate, tear fissures

in the heart of country, birth

the dangerous, translucent gems, one

by one: the first playmate, the agony, polish your rose

and mouth with makeup, draw out the song

and string up the water serpent

of your light-body, I want for them

to illuminate that awful chasm

of your able, infant death.


Still, we reach for the litter

of your careless hand, the restless,

clean fingernail, cap of skull,

a weekend laugh, the wolf machinery

in your boyish heart, its careful

fledging, its wobbled flight;

we watch for the stars caught finally

in your throat, in the steely net of hours,

listen for the last, snagged thought

in your tender brain— we’d like that shrivel,

the ecstatic undoing.


I just want the one, good thing

to give to them, the imagined gift

that wakes inanimate eyes,

holds heavy heads of baby sisters,

squeezes the bent shoulder of lonely

brother; I want that heel or palm

to touch to tired foreheads,

for your parents only, I want, I snap

the lines of grief, to crush

its terrifying sadness, condense the odds,

to swallow your disgusting death

like a silverfish and choke

on the scales, sharp, antennae, scattered

puzzle pieces, hard, fake food,

the wooden gavel, a plastic kitchen.


I want to heave up your childhood,

her carpet, my dog and the lawn, loving,

fleeting children, the impassable river of remains,

regurgitate the arguments, the single word

that haunts your lips, I want to kiss up

the fear and spit out your dying, want

to crawl up into that ugly,

spaceless cavity called god

and yank your life out from it.