Elegy: Late November

The last thing he says: “Leave
the light—it doesn’t bother me.” The last thing
he wants: a sip of coffee.
Bringing the cup to his lips his right hand
shakes like the heart of some small bird: a swallow,
wren, or finch: some breed that’s never still,
never seen without patience. The cup rocks, he lists,
seems to be nothing
but soft cloth: flannel & T-shirt & well-washed denims.
Drifting farther: like sage-green ribbons loosed
to the air: the taste of water the summer you were eight:
skin cells, hairs, oil, & sweat.
His brother & son swing his feet
so he’s flat. He coughs. They hold him
down, clean his chin with a tissue. “That’s it,” one says.
The room smells of coffee and Marlboros. One pot,
another; cup follows cup as everyone waits.
His hair, fine & white as:
sea salt: a fresh Arrow
dress shirt: a clean sheet of onionskin:
his hair.
Someone has combed his hair.


Sit still, breathe lightly.
His thumb at your ear;
spatulate fingers
cupping your throat.
Scrape of the razor
grazing your skin:
short strokes, then longer;
against the grain,
then with it.
This is for him,
so you do it.
Still to the point
of numb; then still
to the point
of tremor. Steady,
breathe lightly.
No matter
how shallow,
a cut bleeds
quickly. Pulse in your ears;
gooseflesh and flush.
Still; inhale; still; exhale; still.
If he wants you at all
he wants you unmarked.

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