My gasp is a question
that my daughter answers:
Yes, those were babies.
And she wonders--
Where were they going?
Five young possum and their mother,
still among the forgotten shoes and plastic bags
of 8th Street.
My son begs us to stop.
I thought you saw a puppy, he says.
I thought you saw a bird.
But what I saw was a grave,
and we didn’t hold our breath
like when we pass a field of crosses,
and the bad luck will surely come.
On the radio
they tell us about the guns:
the child that shot their teacher
the boy that shot his mother
the man that shot the grocery store
the motorists that shot each other.
But we don’t need the news to tell us
what we already know:
that gunshots sound different than fireworks and
the alley is full of casings and
the anger in our city is a weapon.
We dial the volume down
and choose beauty instead--
the peregrine perched on the light post,
the ice growing into lace on our windshield,
the sun filtered through factory exhaust,
the waving winter grasses poking through rusted chain-link.
Today, though, we brake next to death
and inhale the fumes of our city’s sorrow.
We are out of practice with grief.
Even when cities were crying on their windowsills,
we didn't hear what the dead were telling us.
And in Senegal, when a bus killed 44,
the whole nation entered three days of mourning,
and I wonder:
What might be healed here
if we sat with the agony of our losses?
But we are not
a people that mourn:
214 dead already but
we rage against potholes and prices instead,
against taxes and tickets, but not the dead.
They are untended and unmarked.
in the sheer volume of loss.
We do not tend to our dead
or even our living:
as if we do not hear the incessant whine of the sirens,
as if we are not locked behind fears that
we, too, will be an unremarkable loss.
We catalogue deaths--
10 at a dance festival
21 at a school
6 at a parade
7 at work in the fields --
But we do not mourn.
the red light stops us and we cannot look away.
And I wonder,
were they headed home,
mother and children,
across the highway to where the river reminds us
of the wild that once was:
where coyotes still howl between tents and settlements
where turkeys still leap into trees when dogs run free
where fawns are still hidden safe from mountain bikes
where trout still run and hawks still hunt and
a woodpecker’s red still flashes past the leaking aqueduct that reeks of sewage?
my children know about the summer murders there,
and my neighbor tells us how needles wend their way up the river’s hill
to her children’s tree fort,
and we are weary of water that poisons more than it nourishes.
Even in this thicket of wild living,
our city is unforgiving.
And I won’t mention to my children
the baby raccoon that the neighbor could not save
or the nest of wrens that blew to their end after the thunder.
And I won’t mention to my children
the missing young people
or my student’s father, killed at home.
I won’t mention the swerving car last night
or how my phone pings with relentless warnings.
I won’t mention any of this, but still:
Because they remember when we hid in the closet
and they remember their father during the lockdown
and they practice their own ends at school.
They know, but still:
my son hoped that my gasp was delight.
She lays in the street between white dashed paint,
a mother like me,
shuttling our young in search of safe harbor.
I look at her.
I see her.
And I grieve.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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