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Six Objects, Exchanged, Between Someone Dying & Someone Being Born

Copper Spork

In the room off of the hospice lobby, the one across from the tank of screeching songbirds, you tell me that you were a carpenter. I loved taking ugly things, just plain wooden boards, and turning them in to something beautiful. You spit out your words in a soft bawlmerese, tears resting on the angles of your sunken cheekbones.
While you were sleeping, your sister showed me photographs of your work: Paul never started with a plan, he would make it up as he went along. It would always turn out beautifully; it was amazing.
A month later, after the memorial, your mother will tell me about the time you re-did the floors in her house: Paul caused us so much trouble for so many years and it was like he was trying to make up for it. He spent months laying down that floor, day in and day out.

I give you the little copper spork I forged and you hang it around your neck. You keep it there until you are too sick to wear it. At the memorial, your family drapes it around the box of ashes.

12 Sticks of Eyeliner

You are pulling fistfuls of gold-capped black eyeliner from a vinyl duffel bag. You hand me a bunch, held together by a rubber band. Later, I count: 12 sticks.

A friend of yours, an aging rocker in acid-wash jeans, is painting your nails sparkly black. A few minutes ago, as she parted and finger-combed your bottle-black hair, you were quipping about how you want to be put in the ground like Eddie Muenster.
I’m sitting on a chair in the corner of the room.
You turn to me. I’m kind of androgynous, you say. I smile, I say not a word.

I look like such a pretty girl. I look like such a pretty girl in my brown dress with my long curly hair. I am told that dozens of time throughout the day. Such a pretty girl-boy-girlboy-girl-boy-boy-boy. Which one of us is which, father?

A Portfolio of My Writing

On October 7, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died in a hospital in eastern Maryland. He was found keeled over in a gutter in Baltimore five days prior, dressed in clothes that were not his own. One-hundred and sixty three years later, the cause of death remains a mystery.
Poe was buried at Westminster Hall, one block north of the University of Maryland Medical Center. You were there before you came here, to this house of the dying. During your stay, you would leave the hospital in your gown, wheeling an IV behind you. You would go and stand at your hero’s grave.

A friend takes a photograph for the cover of the writing portfolio I’m putting together. I stand in front of Poe’s gravestone and make the face you always do in photographs: chin down, gaze direct, brow furrowed.

I give you the portfolio on my twenty-third birthday. Later, on the internet, you tell me that you have read my dosset many times. You tell me about a song you wrote. It’s called I Was in Jail the Day Johnny Cash Died.

Ovation Guitar

Paul could do many things, but he was never much of a musician, your sister says. For most of my life, music was the only thing I knew of you. I had your name and the name of your old band; The Vamps. I spent hours on the internet searching both, trying to find a place where they went together. When I found you, you were posed with young women in goth attire; you looked older than your forty-aught years, like a washed up rock star. I decided then that I was not of you, that I wanted no claim to this legacy that felt so far from my nascent feminism; from my addiction to success, to not failing, to not being a failure.

The first time that you were dying, I didn’t go see you. The second time, years later, I was on a Baltimore-bound train three hours after I heard. I told my birthmother to let you know that I was coming. I was scared that I would be late and scared that I would make it in time. Scared that there would be nothing to say.
You lived for almost a month, telling stories and painting your nails and whining that the hospice nurses wouldn’t let a dying man go outside to have a cigarette. Some say that I was the shot of hope that kept you going for that long. I smile wordlessly at the proclamations, I don’t tell them that you are my shot of hope, pulling me through to a place where (finally, at last) I can speak without shaking, stand without stepping backwards.
I am told that it is good that I didn’t meet you until now, here, at this end. He was impossible to deal with, my birthmother and your family say. They tell me that death has shaken you out of your pattern of behavior, that you are more like the person you were two decades ago; brilliant and loving. Every time I am told this I nod wordlessly but beneath my calm I am trembling. You are wrong, I should have come the first time, I should have come years ago. I wonder who I long to save with this sentiment: you or myself, the lost child made of unknown parts: the madness and the scribbling and that sense of humor– biting, deadpan, making light of the darkest things.

Your guitar sits in my birthmother’s garage unplayed. I can do many things, but I am not much of a musician.

Leather Notebook

The leather-bound notebook is filled with heartbreak songs, carpentry plans, shopping lists, printed-out and taped-in Kahlil Gibran poems. I think you bought the notebook in Europe. Regardless, Europe is the story that I want to tell:

Your younger brother went to college in Paris. He was the first person in your family to graduate. You were so proud of him that you flew to France for the ceremony.
You brought your mountain bike and biked through the Alps. You returned to Paris on the day of the graduation party, giddy with excitement about what you had just accomplished.    The party was in one of those old cafes in Montparnasse, La Rotonde or maybe Le Selecte, one of those places where Hemingway swilled. You had been sober for nine years. You helped many others become sober during that time.
There are different stories about why you had a drink. Some say you met a pretty girl and couldn’t turn down the glass of wine she offered you. I prefer the version where you were so proud of yourself and so proud of your brother that you felt invincible. If you were to be undone by a glass of wine in a Montparnasse cafe, at least, at least, it was because you felt like you were flying.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?/And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?1

Cremation Necklace

I am often asked if it is a bird whistle. No, I reply, dryly, it’s a dead man. But I am beginning to think that we are both right, the questioners and I. In the glass-strewn streets of silent cities, in the tremble before articulation, I have followed it.

I count the ways that I carry your bones: in the choice of my words and the shape of my eyes, in the synapses misfiring in my brain, in the way that I cry, in my funny feet with those toes that are just like-
I tattoo the title of your favorite song on those toes. Hallelujah. Sometimes when I am walking, I look down at my booted feet and remember those words beneath the leather and the wool.
   Hallelujah, I think, hallelujah, for I have known you.

1 From On Death by Kahlil Gibran

-wren awry, loom art zine, feb. 2013