Friday, April 1, 2011

Asphodel


On days like this I think about my brother--
days that are cold and gray, days full of rain.
I think of what he'd give to be alive
today--to feel this rain, and see his breath
snake out into the air--to feel the wind
grab at his coat--to feel rain water seep
into his sneakers--what he'd give to feel.

On days like this I wonder what he felt,
what his last frantic thoughts were. "What the fuck?"
"Get your hands off me"! "What just happened here?"
"Who am I?" "Don't! Don't turn off the machines!
It's me! It's me in here! Don't do this! Don't!"
I hear that one a lot, as if he was
some character in Poe, buried alive
in the unyielding coffin of his body--
his mind clawing against a wall of flesh,
his unheard voice screaming till it goes hoarse.

On days like this I feel like I betrayed him.

On days like this, I wonder why I'm here
and he is not, and never will be now.

On days like this I think about Achilles
meeting Odysseus in the fields of Hell
and when Odysseus says "No one has been
more lucky than you, for you were adored
by every living Greek while yet you lived,
and now in Hell you are the greatest prince
among the dead," Achilles frowns and says,
"Say not a single word in praise of death.
I'd rather be a servant in a poor
man's house above the dirt than king of kings
below it." Then he says, "But give me news.
News of my living son." And when he hears
about the earthly glory that was won
by Neoptolemos, Achilles strides
across a field of blooming asphodel,
exulting that his son now has a name
to reckon with up in the breathing world.

On days like this I think of how my brother's
world ended eighteen weeks ago, and yet
my world goes on, part of the big shared world
that will go on long after my world ends,
and it becomes too big a thought for me
to grasp, or even want to grasp, and I
just let it go, and let the breathing world
inhale and exhale me, which it will do
until the day its lungs give out and die,
and my life chokes.

On days like this I close my eyes and smell
the asphodel that waits for all of us
and think how lucky I am to be here
above the dirt, slaving to stay alive,
wishing my brother was here too, so we
could spend just one more day together, like
the end of Our Town--one more day to tell
this world that we have names to reckon with
and things to celebrate on days like this.


Copyright 2011 Matthew J Wells