Mountain Hymn

February 12, 2012
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The shingles scratched the backs of her thighs. She steadied herself on the roof with her pale hands whose palms were scribbled with dodgy reminders. Thank you notes, lunch with Mr. Perulli, hockey uniform, her hands told her. Winter branches, winter air, thick gray wool clouds like Grandmother’s tweed coat that smelled like pink lipstick and hot curlers and loud perfume that perforates your nostrils. She wondered at the collective minutes, hours, and months she had sat in this spot and at the spaces her thoughts floated into on this roof. The watermelon, parkas, lighters, the sheets of opaque moonlight and folding pockets of fresh wind in her hair. Moments that left her body like drops of smoke, that wafted towards the trees surrounding her home. Those trees must have soaked her up over the years, she must now be living in their skin and in their bark, she saw their black naked branches poke at the heavy sky. Reaching arms with jutting, boney fingertips.
She wondered, what was the last conversation I had with him? The last conversation. The meaningful words and breaths of life that she could hold onto and ponder at for the answers and questions of human existence. The conversation that should have been laced with melancholy strings of acknowledgment at the profanity of his life and all life, jeweled words of her love for him, wrapped in his traditional grandfatherly jokes and jests?
She wanted to laugh. And she did at the irony in what her memory had preserved, saved, absorbed, and at the poignancy in the question and in the truthful answer. She remembered he had asked if she had a boyfriend… And when she said no, he said it was probably because she had such big feet. She had clamped her hand over her mouth at his remark. Her smile had seeped from behind her fingers and through its cracks and corners and floated quietly into the shadowy air of his bedroom. Last night she dreamt of a mountain whose vertigo held her tightly. An upward vertigo, was the ice morphine or poison? She felt the cold and the icy burn as she craned her neck towards the summit. The height of the whiteness had burned her retnas because she was small. Her body. Our bodies are small, really. His thin body had looked frail in the casket, insubstantially vulnerable and vacant. She remembered that she wanted the cosmos in the palm of her hand and to squeeze it. Clay, play dough, silly putty. She wanted it in her palm and to feel its power and her own strength. She had dreamt all of this into her pillow but had not dreamt of that still body. Or of the uncomfortable tightness in his mouth that made him not even him at all, or the makeup on his cold skin which was touched and caressed by lonely hands.

The idea of not knowing his life but only the life of his death and death in his life was a maybe truth and she was angry at the maybe-ness in this thought. One day she had one grandfather and the next day she had none. One zero one zero. Today she had one sister and tomorrow she could have none… Pesticides, poison, Parkinsons. Parkinsons.
When would it stop and just be an empty day instead of a crowded day with orange sorbet petal flowers and skinny orchids and baskets of chocolatey popcorn and caramel with I’m sorry for your loss and We are thinking of you during this difficult time? Would it feel empty like the Zero that now held her day, into which she had crawled and in which she had cocooned herself?
When she stood in the pew to walk to the podium, Becky had helped her and pulled down her dress in the back. It had been a motherly thing to do, even though Becky was not her mother. Amidst her aunt’s cascading tears and balled up tissues and red rimmed eyeballs she thought to pull down her niece’s dress in the back. The gesture was kind.
“If Death is Kind, by Sarah Teasdale.” She liked the way her own mouth formed the name Teasdale, and the way it echoed and reverberated into the microphone. She didn’t like how tight her face felt and how if she had accidentally tripped up the step, she would have fallen into the lectern which would have tipped precariously over and nudged the casket and its contents onto the floor in front of the pews. Their mouths would have formed O’s, she thought of all of the dark circle mouths she would have seen if this had happened. Staring, empty holes.
In the car she turned the seat heater dial all the way until the seat feverishly began to sweat, clammy, and her lower back glowed. She pressed her cheek, flushed, against the numbing coldness of the window. Her eyes of cognac and syrup and ruddy chestnut ticked and ticked to the passing telephone poles, wires, naked trees, reaching arms, bony, jutting finger tips poking at the heavy sky.

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