You did nothing special on my birthday—not even dying.
I think you leaned against a railing in San Francisco
to peer through a pair of coin-operated binoculars
at whales that leaped and slapped the bay.
You slept until ten a.m., quibbled with Peter
over cereal and milk,
maybe stroked his thigh.
Doctors chanted your liver’s failure to you and friends.
But you didn’t die the day I was born,
stroll up to me across the amniotic waves
to hand your legacy as a writer to me—I’d have to settle
with your margin notes years later,
black carrots thrust up between “a,” and “c,”
your surviving the hospital and your mother,
your screaming Blake out the window
to New York at night
while I struggled just to not fuck up a line,
plug away at it year after year after year
without setting fire to the laptop
for the last time, still writing every morning.
You wouldn’t have known my name then or now,
even if you and those whales still lived—
some dead of old age, some beached,
suffocated under weight of lungs and hearts.
I have as much of you as I do them,
slipping krill through broom bristle teeth
in so many ordinary sweeps in the far deep,
sustaining themselves on so many small things.
This would be back in ’34, that time I found the finger bone
by the road—I forget which name—
when we drove the Chevy out to the Sandhills,
Cokes in hand, so sweet and cold
we felt good as Sunday china.
Found a bucking yellow sash
of police tape ‘bove the table of sand
where we raked our hands for some sign
of where it happened, last spring—after he’d done
with her and folded her among the penstemon.
My hand closed on a thimble stopped with wax.
No. Blunt cusp of bone, honed as a compass—
last bit of a finger I rolled right into my palm,
just the tip, like one half of a broken hinge
to the washroom door we been meaning to fix.
Useless pinky, always—probably hoisted
when she sipped tea, curled in her fist
like some island shell when she scrubbed toilets
for uptown people, like I did,
or when she gripped a shoulder.
I left it back there, but—ever smelled bone?
My hands kept the damn scent all the way home—
scrubbed ‘em raw with lava soap
hewn out of rock spewed from some vent of fire,
name I can’t pronounce, an island hundreds of miles away.