When I came to say goodbye,
I brought a pocketful of poems,
not mine, but some which I meant to comfort you,
and I hope they did,
hope you heard me through your sleep,
but now I know they were more about me
not saying
what I might have said. Instead
I read you classic meditations on the dead.
After I rubbed my snipped fingertip
through your thinning hair
and down your cheek draped
in clear rubber snakes, breathing
your last life into you,
I might have told you
all of the weird reasons for which I love you:
for the Yahtzee dice we’d roll far beyond
bedtime, their clink and rattle across the table
paused for my brief performances,
and how I love you for how you’d laugh, your belly roiling
as the boy of me would be The Goat or belt
Lunchlady Land, channeling Adam Sandler
into your living room. How I love you
for the way I fed a goat by hand
why you stared at me with all of the love
you were storing for the baby you’d struggle
for so many years to have, and when you finally did
and we three heard the screeching
from beneath your black AstroVan and I
crawled under to remove the bloody hen
who’d roosted in cool shade on some pipe before
having its wings twisted
in the serpentine belt that propelled us
to the park or beach where
you would sit for hours reveling
in the pleasure of watching
children playing; I love you
for that, and for how you would hydrate
on the dark syrup of Coca-Cola, indulging me
to what was off-limits at home, the bubbles
popping like a billion tiny balloons
in my mouth, each one
declaring my love for you;
popping like all the kernels
we exploded like stars
upon your stovetop while
we traveled to Oz
and you held me
when the monkeys flew.
But rather than tell you these things
I read you Wordsworth,
hoping to assuage the human
fears, which you, so many times earlier,
had contended your strong faith prevented
you from having, never wishing
for a more magnificent couch, wrapped in
its drapery and lying down to pleasant dreams,
which I hope I didn’t interrupt by reading you
Dickinson and Donne, which when I was
done with, having concluded,
Death, thou shalt die, you
sat up and coughed and I thought
I killed you
for a moment. Just a couple days
later your soul flew from your skin, your skin
that had been scarred from hard living,
ingrown nails plucked long ago from your big toes,
blemished chest from having your breasts
burned inside a conflagration of cotton nightie,
and as your wick suffocated in its transfixed wax
I recall you telling me lovingly
to never lean over a candle.

Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash

Josh Nicolaisen

Josh Nicolaisen taught English for twelve years and is currently an MFA candidate at Randolph College. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife, Sara, and their daughters, Grace and Azalea. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose poems have recently appeared in So It Goes, Nixes Mate Review, Backlash, Northern New England Review, East by Northeast Literary Magazine, and elsewhere.