In the moment my father died, we did not want to spend
Another dollar for the twenty-four hours
He would no longer be living
In the Willow Haven full-care facility.
We lobbied the nurses to credit the last moment
He breathed among us. It was four-thirty am,
April 26, 2007. Who in their right mind
Would call that a day? Maybe if we had him out
By dawn, someone said.
When she said that, my mother directed me
To lift a La-Z-Boy into our old van.
Sometimes the yarmulke of the human hand
Is all we need to press us back to earth again.
Don’t worry, my brother said,
Strange things might happen
In this exact moment. My father was not
A wealthy man. We gathered all
His stray accoutrements—toothbrush, razor,
A lifetime of reading bound up
In his last book, Robinson’s Gilead…
He lay there in that precise moment
While the nurses, lovely women all of them,
Stripped and washed him, then set out
A fresh pair of pajamas. My mother cried,
Kissed him on the forehead. Socks or no socks,
Someone asked? In the economics
Of that exact moment, we ordered only
A cardboard coffin, everything he ever wanted.
Then they swung him in his last sheet,
Flat on a gurney, a sail-wrapped sailor
Rolling toward the deep.
Some man in jeans and a colored BVD
Steered him down the hallway.
He hoped it was okay
With my brother and me, mud on his
Cherokee SUV…. I wanted to stay
A long while in the brake lights’ glow
But somewhere in an absence
Of underwriters and sacraments
One last time my father put on his stole.
Too young to receive
A child bared his head.
Then all the universe weighed in
For the altered touch of the priest.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.