At sunset on the day he shared with me,
his car carried him into the lake. His body
pinned beneath a ‘68 Dodge Dart, his soul
shimmering just above the water like oil.
In my room, I prepared for cake and presents,
until his sister—my mom—came with the news.
Our party moved to the boat dock
where they pulled the rusted car from darkness
and let it drip, baptized. No streamers, but lights
of red and blue flashed for the carnival of birth
become death—on the day we took our first breath.
Yet, time folds this memory upon itself, and I see
me tripping out the screen door to meet him
in my youth, as I always did. His halo of smoke
(tobacco and pot) pulling me into his arms
brown and strong from his work in the fields.
The dust from open windows on gravel road
billowing like an aura around us as he spins
me through the air, feet flying away
from my body—centrifugal. And I cry
as if he’d ever let me go. Landing back to earth,
relief as he swings me to his shoulders
and I duck through our front door, my arms
wrapped around his crew-cut head. His tombstone
carved with angels with angry looks, jealous
of the fluidity of time—cursed as they are.
He taught me to throw a knuckle ball and spit
like a boy—we built a birdhouse using stained
popsicle sticks. The fence around the cemetery
has spikes around the top, and I wonder who they’re
protecting, who they’re keeping out. Or in.
I buried a mood ring just under the surface
and I finger it out of the loam and check
to see how he’s feeling today. Always blue,
peaceful. Like water. At the lake, just a mile
away from his underground home, a family picnics
on the dock where they drew his body out
like a bucket from a well. The little girl has
red pigtails. Like me. But does she know the
power of memory and the way it blends
into the present, transcends reality,
merciless? I’d ask her, but her mother
was in my class. She knows me, and that’s why
I never come back here to my hometown
where everyone remembers that I lost him
and then lost myself to melted candles
and Ouija and séances and EVP, attempts
at reviving a life misplaced in the murky
black water that ripples, insensate. The gate
at the cemetery looms in the twilight, spotlit
for those who cannot find their way back
to their names engraved in granite, polished
and dusted, vases filled each Memorial Day
and Christmas wreathes adjusted just so
everyone believes this body is still loved.
But he hated flowers, and the grass they sow
onto his plot never grows. The ground sinks
into itself, deeper, deeper, until one day
his casket will be naked, visible for decedents
to see. Add more dirt, it’ll wash away
in the rain or the floods that’ll surely drown
this place, this population of 4,295 (minus me),
absorb and dissolve other shared birthdays.
The fence, wrought iron and black, cannot hold
the lake back, cannot stop it from rising up
the throats of naked, vacant bodies. And it will.