In my dream, Uncle Cleo stands in his dead brother’s home
and calls suddenly for prayer. “When we die, let us die quickly,
oh Lord, but let us be what we can in the meantime.”
My brother loudly says “amen,” and adds
“I’m having trouble with that ‘be what we can,’ myself.”
Uncle Cleo keeps on in that calm preacher’s voice of his
about our trip, says “there’s no use to leave before daylight.”
In reality, Uncle Cleo died old of diabetes and drink,
a few body parts at a time until his final day at a VA hospital.
I never heard him pray, but he really had that preacher’s voice.
He knew what it was to ‘be what he could,’ having been a sailor,
a shoe salesman, a drinker. He knew what it was to find himself
married on a drunken weekend. His brother didn’t live like this.
The drunken marriage didn’t last the weekend, but there was
another woman who stayed with him through many divorces,
including their own.
Uncle Cleo really did live to stand in his dead brother’s home.
His brother always said he wanted to be a preacher
but died broke selling furniture instead; heart failure one
hot afternoon. If my brother ever says “I’m having trouble
with that ‘be what we can,’ myself,” I’ll probably say “amen” out loud,
but I doubt he’ll ever say it to me.
published around 2005 in the now defunct web journal, The New Pantagruel