I pet my father like some big cat a hunter has set on the ground, though I am in Iowa now and not the Great Rift Valley and what I sense as tent canvas flapping, thick with waterproofing, is cheap cotton choked with starch. Still, he is a lion on the gurney. I talk a little to make sure he's dead. I have some memory of riding his shoulders through the fragrant night. Three fish coiled in a creel. So many butterflies and gnats, it was two-thirds Kenya, one-third Illinois. And then home: the clink of ice and gin. And so I rub his hair, which is unwashed, and will remain unwashed, for we will burn him. I touch the blade of his chest. Think of all those years I spent hovering beneath the scent of Marlboros, the mouthwash trace of booze; all that ice cracking, going stale: crowned molars and mimic glaciers fading to bled-out amber among the cuticles of lime. Maybe that's why when he so blindly flies on that exaltation of velocity and gas, he doesn't linger in this world awhile as word or song, a density we might gather round— an aquifer, or gushing spring, as pure as gin. Instead, he departs as vapor. Fragments of tooth and bone in the swept-out mass I can throw back to dirt, or spread—a child's sugared, grainy drink— to water. And now I wonder, where's the soul in this? The agent of it? If it un-tags, re-tags itself—a flexible, moveable, graffiti—indelible for the time we have it, or if it sputters on some inward cycle toward a Rubbermaid waste bucket, sink trap ringed with cocktail residue. As on my returning, the trays of ice were reduced to spit. I had a drink in my hand, that memory of riding; the fragrant night. How can I open the freezer now and not see the milky irises of his passage; the array of paw and pelt; jaw wrenched so far open in that rictus of longing, gasping, his living eyes could not help but tip and follow?
(Shroud of Turin) They must have bled as they sang, the needles so quick through the linen, the frayed mesh, the silvers must have stung them. Pinpricks they must have stemmed with their tongues, unembarrassed, these brides of Christ- like sewing patches of sunlight to water--the ghost in the cloth laid double across their laps. These are the hips of Christ, knees raw bone inking the linen; this, the stain of a coin that graced His eye, the image as yet unpatterned, available only-- should they dare to look-- in random angles, stitches. Terrible gash at a medial rib. Imprint: sole of His foot, the other merely heel, curve of a branch at its one end blackened, released to ash-their fingers as furious as sparks in the medieval dusk repairing a fire . . . They must have wept as they bled as they sang.