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Goodbye Grandpa

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A poem by my sweet cousin Joanna Dickman. She didn’t leave anything left to be said. I thank her for this beautiful gift.

And Out In

 

1.

I stood behind my grandfather

in a chattering of freshly soul-fed friends

and clasped my hands around his middle,

my face resting on the worn blazer over his shoulder blade.

He turned his head to the side

spoke to me

and I told him I love you in his ear.

I felt his breath fill my arms,

the labor of a life

in this practiced pattern in

and out in

and out in

and out.

I swallowed,

and knew some day would come.

 

2.

Years later,

when the news comes that

we only have him till July,

I scoff.

He is good stock.

He is made of oatmeal

and pickle vinegar

and beet juice

and the last of all the vegetables

and the marrow from every bone

and the meat from every lobster leg

and always milk never coffee,

always water never soda.

When they tell me his heart is tired,

I scoff.

He is made of farm land

of waking up with the sun

of working all day

of finishing high school early

of a degree in engineering

of being an engineer.

He is made of numbers and figuring

of problem solving,

of the mathematics that hold

a thing together to reach the moon,

and a family together to reach retirement.

He is made of sails

and tides and ocean

of latitude and longitude

of the wind in his hair,

of a wheel in his hands,

of charted and uncharted waters,

of charted and uncharted lands.

When they tell me this could be it,

this could be the last season, the last time,

I scoff.

He is one liners and deep smiles,

side-hug apologies

and five-word wisdom.

He is the pillar,

the anchor, the bulwark

the tide, the moon

the mountain.

He is made of real things.

They don’t make men like this anymore.

And no July,

no August,

no September,

no month, no date, no year.

None of them are enough to take him from us

to take the breath from his lungs

to make some day arrive.

 

3.

And then,

Dear God,

Someday arrived.

September

It came as a quake,

something that is known

but never expected.

So loud

you can’t hear over your own breathing

So rough

you fight everything that touches you.

So harsh

it keeps men talking at your back all night,

and puts forks in your eyes.

So scary

it pulls your family to your side.

 

The world was held together

by the continuous beeping of monitors,

by tape and gauze,

by sheer force of will–

the will of magnetic north,

of hurricanes and tornadoes,

of planetary rotation

of gravity.

 

And then the wind gave out

and out in

and out

and out.

The compass started spinning.

The planet stopped turning.

Gravity let go.

And everything became a struggle.

When to wake up?

How to get out of bed?

Where to go?

 

And the world missed it.

People went about their lives,

answering phones,

and standing in lines,

cutting people off on the road,

flicking through radio stations,

making their coffee.

People everywhere continued,

going about their lives as if nothing had happened.

 

But the world is less now.

The spine of our family has been ripped out.

True north is gone.

The sun only rises out of habit,

and it’s getting later every day.

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