I think it’s important to remember our dead—
it’s one of the most human things we can do.
I once spent the night on this man’s couch
where roach clips smiled on the coffee table
and kind bud and coat dander flecked the nap.
His apartment was left the way his dead parents
decorated it. China patterns from a Floridian
antiquity laid out for a bachelor type breakfast.
He wanted to know how my husband and I
clicked. He was always on the lookout for a
younger man, but depression slowed him down.
Too many setbacks perhaps caused the stroke
or heart attack. He could be any gay man of a
certain age—he had the wit and the pop culture
knowledge. Chemical dependence may have
rubbed the difference away. Found dead with his eyes
open, was he surprised to see the world go? Relieved?
Like all gay wise men, he will keep the knowing
to himself. If only he could light a joint, and tell
us about it, or remind us again how his life paralleled
The Return of the Secaucus Seven. After I answer the call,
I go for a walk, not sure whether I have the right to mourn.
I see shoes dangle on the telephone wire and wonder
if they’re his size. It’s as if someone lobbed them there
in his memory—blue and white swooshed Nikes
blurring into the afternoon sky. Like we do with so
many of our acquaintances, I just took him for granted,
and the tears I shed may be for my own mortality, not his.
Crying for that sorrow may be the most human,
I never said admirable, thing we can do.
We are watching the decline,
the uncles we barely know die.
We are shivering in the late,
last winter of capitalistic decay.
We tasted it in the anomie of the nineties,
could never quite believe the shiny,
science optimism of the fifties and sixties,
beliefs as mutable as an ill-fitting hairpiece.
The aunts who kept us safe have left the house.
They used to soothe. They used to grouse.
Their curses have weakened the patriarchy,
the imbalance, the unfair power monopoly.
They divorced jolly uncles with bellies full of laughs
and suitcases full of travel trinket graft.
Mysterious men who kept the status quo, made it look fun
as society kept others pressed under a calloused thumb.
Days spent coveting magazine advertising shams,
a slimmer self, toned arms, shapely gams,
the right hat, the right suit, the right dress
would make you irresistible, a sartorial success.
It was the avuncular nature of our culture
that led us astray and turned us into vultures
pecking away at earth’s entrails,
caught up in the genial, the general,
while we should have been concerned with the details.