Oh dream, why do you do me this way?
Again, with the digging, again with the digging up.
Once more with the shovels.
Once more, the shovels full of dirt.
The vault lid. The prying. The damp boards.
Mother beside me.
Like she’s an old hat at this.
Like all she’s got left is curiosity.
Like curiosity didn’t kill the red cat.
Such a sweet, gentle cat it was.
Here we go again, dream.
Mother, wearing her take-out-the-garbage coat.
I haven’t seen that coat in years.
The coat she wore to pick me up from school early.
She appeared at the back of the classroom, early.
Go with your mother, teacher said.
Diane, you are excused.
I was a little girl. Already a famous actress.
I looked at the other kids. I acted lucky.
Though everyone knows what an early pick-up means.
An early pick-up, dream.
What’s wrong, I asked my mother. It is early spring.
Bright sunlight. The usual birds.
Air, teetering between bearable and unbearable.
Cold, but not cold enough to shiver.
Still, dream, I shiver.
You know, my mother said.
Her long garbage coat flying.
There was a wind, that day.
A wind like a scurrying grandmother, dusting.
Look inside yourself, my mother said.
You know why I have come for you.
And still I acted lucky. Lucky to be out.
Lucky to be out in the cold world with my mother.
I’m innocent, I wanted to say.
A little white girl, trying out her innocence.
A white lamb, born into a cold field.
Frozen almost solid. Brought into the house.
Warmed all night with hair dryers.
Death? I said. Smiling. Lucky.
We’re barely to the parking lot.
Barely to the car ride home.
But the classroom already feels like the distant past.
Long ago, my classmates pitying me.
Arriving at this car full of uncles.
Were they wearing suits? Death such a formal occasion.
My sister, angry-crying next to me.
Me, encountering a fragment of evil in myself.
Evilly wanting my mother to say it.
What? I asked, smiling. My lamb on full display at the fair.
He’s dead! my sister said. Hit me in the gut with her flute.
Her flute case. Her rental flute. He’s dead!
Our father, who we were not supposed to know had been dying.
He’s dead! The flute gleaming in its red case.
Here, my mother said at home.
She’d poured us each a small glass of Pepsi
We normally couldn’t afford Pepsi.
Lucky, I acted.
He’s no longer suffering, my mother said.
Here, she said. Drink this.
The little bubbles flew. They bit my tongue.
My evil persisted. What is death? I asked.
And now, dream, once more you bring me my answer.
Dig, my mother says. Pry, she says.
I don’t want to see, dream.
The lid so damp it crumbles under my hands.
The casket just a drawerful of bones.
A drawerful. Just bones and teeth.
That one tooth he had. Crooked like mine.
Copyright © 2021 by Diane Seuss. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 12, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.