The Dream of Uncle Cleo

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

A Year Ago When You Told Us that

you were dying, I stared at you, thinking
it was one of your philosophical remarks,
served up between Schrödinger’s Cat
and the Platonic Ideal. We were eating popcorn
in the kitchen and it was just like that, you said
the worst was that telling your friends
would be like hitting a dish with a hammer,
hoping someone else could glue it back together.

This is the third of three posts in this series.

The Day Before When We

came downtown to see you,
we were cracking wise about
the hospital, but Phil was
suddenly aloof, determined
to get to your room, showing
no patience to the volunteer, a
nice-enough lady with a
metal angel pin. You
seemed old, but not enough,
sitting up with us talking
weakly about everything
but

before we left downtown we
wanted to see the museum
but it was closed. We walked
back to the station; Jenny
bought a Saint Peregrine
medal from a street vendor,
started to cry. I spent
the rest of that day
holding her hand, or with
my arm (which fell asleep)
around her on the train.

This is two of the three poems I intend to post in this series.

The Day After What We

called a wake, although we slept,
worthless disciples in the garden
of doubt and anguish over the
tumbling foothold of grief,

We smoked cigarettes, switched
to beer to get soberer, shaved
and put on clean clothes, clothes
we’d bury ourselves in,
were we dead ourselves
and not walking in the long shadow

behind the grave.

 

 

 

This is one of three poems I intend to post as the next three entries.

 

 

Insomnia

Insomnia, while it lasts, is like flying
downhill on a bike. We would love it
were it not for the denouement.
We do love it
under different names at different times:
the holiday weekend, cram sessions,
all the be-now-pay-later moments.
Names like focus, party mode,
and the Big Lie: wired. The promise,
never kept, that tomorrow will not
claim our time with interest, the loan
we didn’t ask for when we lie awake
spinning down mental slopes.