There Are No Words
Her last few years in the house
my grandmother mastered a capacity for preserving foodstuffs,
uncertain what would be lost, or when.
When we emptied her deep freezer we found
butter from 1994, hogsheads of ice cream, enough lemon concentrate
to ceviche the lake where I fished with my grandfather.
He was a quiet man who was always doing nice things.
During his wake my father delivered the sort of elegy
I want to write now but I don’t know where to start.
The week of your funeral,
a famous poet wrote to tell me there are no words
and I thought, isn’t that his job? Doesn’t he spend all day
matching words to situations, fascinations, strangers? Poems for the dead
are called elegies and the best elegies rattle around anthologies
like lost guitar picks, suggesting the kind of music
that will never be played again.
We played guitar together.
You hated barre chords, loved The Flying Burrito Brothers.
One night we sat out on a park bench near the
and played “
We played that song again in
at your office for the fourth of July and on the train
Some days I listen to that song and feel nothing.
I walk over to the grocery store and spend all day
cooking a big dinner for Ed, Beth, and the kids,
taking in the whole Greatest Hits album while chopping onion.
Nothing. That’s the thing about grief:
it doesn’t hit you until it hits you. It blades the numbness,
quiet, efficient, and sudden as sunlight. The doctor I am seeing here
calls it “shock,” and says it can be that way for months,
there are all sorts of books about it on Amazon,
one of her patients—a firefighter—was called out to a house
and didn’t think, until three months later, that the body
he carried out that day could be either of his daughters.
He fell to pieces. I guess we all do, eventually.
The grief that never entirely wells up or washes away.
I don’t know its source but I believe it is a kind of sustenance,
that the mind sometimes does not know better
than to try to overcome by consuming it all at once,
no matter how shitty the feeling afterward,
like eating the two-pound burger that gets your photo on the wall
of the local chain restaurant.
It’s just not the sort of thing you want to define you.
I keep changing the background picture on my computer,
trying to remember the exact details of whichever day.
Supposedly that’s one stage of grief, bartering.
I would exchange any or all of the days ahead
for that afternoon we sat out at the bar by your office,
drinking long espressos and waiting for a friend,
when the waiter offered to take a photograph,
not knowing I would spend all morning wondering
at the old man in a blue suit and his wife in a red dress
passing through, behind us, shading their faces from the sun.