For Caroline Kingston
You sit holding the hand of one who is,
who in moments will become was. You say
nothing, everything in your touch.
Your hands once beckoned, coaxed breath
into the world. Now you listen for breath’s
final, lasting, unalterable silence.
To heart’s distancing drum. Loud soft,
loud soft. Playing life’s two-note finale.
Your breathing slows to echo the tempo
of the other’s breath. You exhale, as you
watch tension that keeps life alive leave
the body. The now turning into then.
Death always reminds you of the body’s
miracle. The unseen, immeasurable
calculations needed to entwine your fingers
around fingers of another. Fingers
that navigated every wakeful moment.
Emptying their hold on yours. The world.
You imagine the molecular chorus
of a single cell. Across a universe of cells.
Rising, falling, falling, finally mute.
You listen for a heartbeat. Hear only
the present seep into the gone of the past.
If there is such a thing as a final sigh
of the electro-chemical soul, it arrives,
you think, indecipherable, undetectable.
Between last notes of heart’s iambic duet,
and breath’s journey home.
Dick Altman lives at 7,000 feet on New Mexico’s high desert plain. His work first appeared in the Santa Fe Literary Review, in 2009, and won for poetry in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s 2015 writing competition. His work has appeared not only in the U.S., but England and Australia.