“I know dead people, and you are not dead.” ~ Franz Wright, Walking to Martha’s Vineyard
You can’t be dead. Who talks to dead people?
Only the crazy, and I’m not crazy just because
I tell you good morning, and good night,
and things in between, like what I’m cooking
for lunch and how the kids are doing.
You can’t be dead. Who touches dead people
who are buried? Only crazy people try, and I’m
not crazy even though every time I pass by the desk
where you spent your days I stroke the air
where your head should be, lean in for a kiss.
I’m sure you’re not dead, because after all
if you were really dead you’d be in the past tense,
not the present. Missing you is just proof
that you’re somewhere else, maybe on a trip
that’s gone on too damn long, and that doesn’t
mean that you’re gone. I can still dial
your number and I do. And just because
you don’t answer means nothing except that
you’re busy or your battery died. Because
if you were actually dead it would be obvious
and I’d have moved on by now, just like everyone
keeps insisting I should. I wouldn’t see your form
on the stairs like a hologram, or hear you call me
from the other room. I wouldn’t feel you next to me
in bed, so present I can feel your warmth radiating
into the space between our bodies. I wouldn’t hear
you breathing. And if you’re not beside me in bed,
it’s just because you’re having a bad night
and you decided to sleep on the sofa,
and I don’t want to bother you so I won’t go check.
It’s true most of the time I’m on a planet of pain
as far away from normal life as Pluto, or farther,
but then I realize that this is foolish: why hurt
so much when you haven’t actually died?
I no longer light the lamp by your picture
because that’s what we do for dead people,
and you’re not dead. Even on the 31st, your
memorial-in-a-pandemic, you still won’t be dead:
your picture will be a stand-in for the real you,
the koliva to remember someone else,
your grave a terrible mistake. No slab of granite
could contain you. I’ll go down to the beach
to search for you in the wind and waves instead,
or on the other side of the cliffs. I’ll even brave
that path up the hillside we didn’t climb for years
to see if I can find you. Maybe you just needed one
more challenge, or you wanted to see the sea
rom up high again, those tranquil blues, those waves
like a lacework of foam, a whisper of your promise
that we’d always be together—written on water.
Lisa Suhair Majaj is author of Geographies of Light (Del Sol Press). Her poetry has been translated into Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew. Her poems appeared in the exhibit Aftermath: The Fallout of War (Harn Museum of Art, 2016). She lives in Cyprus, the homeland of her late husband, Andreas Alexandrou.
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