For my uncle,
who was born in ’54, and died at 54.
You are waiting just beyond the herd of reluctant clouds. Salt-and-pepper beard not given time to diminish to just salt. Jade clinking on your body.
But I am furious with you, and I miss you so much that it hurts. When you slip-crawl slowly down the blue tiles in my shower, I ignore you. All too aware of the transparent, humid haze of your voice looming in the corner like an exiled helium balloon at a birthday party. You lie just beyond the barrier of my skull, the fortress of my anger. Bird breeder. Jeweler. Seller of antiques. I don’t want to remember you, not just yet. Not just yet.
And this insistence is the cradle that rocks, protects, and reassures me. Soothing me like the steam in the air and on the mirror. You follow me as I comb my hair, wishing the purple teeth were somebody’s fingers; as I put on my pajamas, you fold your wings beneath my skin. My anger grounds me. Just not yet. I do not say goodnight to you as I cocoon myself in navy fuzz.
You wonder if I will ever speak to you again. Sing to you. (Your voice in the message thanked me for my rendition of Happy Birthday, but I didn’t get the chance to return your missed call. You sounded tired.) I wonder if you will ever come back. Say you were joking. If I will ever not be angry, if you will still exist in sixty years – if I look hard enough, will I find you? I wonder if there is anything else left to ache.
I walk through my day like a shadow. I am angry. There’s no monopoly on grief. (Grandma’s self-hated, caramel-stained hands quiver with earthly exhaustion…she shakes her head. Nobody has told her, no one ever will, but I see it in the murky shallows of her lake-blind eyes.) I hum myself through cereal and milk. Morning like a hum and a honey about the air. I don’t want to smell your smells, drifting about uninhibitedly. We gave the parakeets and lovebirds back years ago, but I can smell the musty squawk of two hundred wings in the old Pennsylvania apartment. You didn’t pull rabbits out of hats; you pulled cockatoos and African greys out of button-down shirts. Names like Sebastian, Jericho, Maya, Coco. A sartorial circus, a born entertainer. You too were puffy so no one suspected a thing, but you were ejected from more than a few restaurants after confiding in the wide-eyed children of disapproving parents.
I didn’t want you to think of me as young but I am young. I think about boys with eyes of mica, the metal heart clinking against my chest. I am selfish with my questions: will you ever go gray? Do you shrink, or drown in tangerine nothingness; do you grow arthritic in the fatal blue mist of other planes? Do you exist; does the pain open like an orchid, like it does in my ribcage? Are you lonely like me?
When you spoke I saw constellations, diamond necklaces above me. The swift, sneaky universe. I imagined you were synonymous with “sky,” your voice expanding like rain, chalky in sidewalk cracks the day we sat in the car in front of Grandma’s rehabilitation center and you told me my future. The grinding of tiny silver links. (If the sky were a tunnel, I thought.) We almost reached it once, almost, on a roller coaster at Dutch Wonderland. It was my first experience and you were the only one willing to accompany me, talking my way on though I was an inch or two too short. As it sped up, we yelled crazy things like Wack a doodle doo! and Alley ohhh!
Don’t worry about men, you prophesied. You will be safe.
The ending credits of “The Matrix” are rolling down your nose and getting caught in your beard. You are tired and you speak like a medium in a trance. Listening, my mind sifted through pollen, heartbeat silent as the carpet, eyes drifting toward the kitchen with its starlit shades of cobalt and periwinkle. Spinning your philosophies by moonlight on a temporal loom, you tell me that this is your last life; you are not coming back after this, and I feel the zodiac shift.
No one will hear me in the basement. With the washing machine whirring on my back, I begin to tell you about the last seventy-two hours.
I imagine you left on the threshold of midnight, the television glowing blue on your face – pill bottle on the table, turbulent snore drizzling down onto the floorboards. The autopsy showed only a man who had what he had. You were dreaming of cages, maybe. Or of white and olive green feathers, a yellow crown. I wish I had asked where you were going.