“Late” by M



Yes, I know. I’m late picking you up.
Truth is I was picked up by another man.

The crematorium director was quite accommodating.
He even did the Mexican hat dance

around the question of how they ensure the ashes of one person
have been entirely removed before they shove the next

into the oven. You’re no saint, you know.
How many people are you mixed up with now?

The container I chose looks like an overly large envelope.
I’ve turned you into a billet-doux

which even you must admit is much better than a debate
about the need for a hospital when you’re having chest pains.

You were the one who taught me to go into these things
not afraid to lose. Have you ever noticed that those

who’ve been ordered to evacuate always keep the wrong things?
An old Speed Stick deodorant. A souvenir lighter from Bourbon Street

that’s run out of fuel. A voice message saying, I’ll be late.
People call the dead late, as though they might show up any minute,

so we widows waste the best parts of our guilt waiting
for a perturbed operator to ask if the deceased will accept the charges

leveled against them. We wander in worn-out nightgowns. We become religious
about a steady diet of Entenmann’s chocolate-covered donuts

because expert studies have shown that a human brain
can’t distinguish the difference between chocolate and love.

That new Tempur-Pedic mattress starts to feel like a slab at the morgue,
so when another man slows his Ford F-150

to ask if anyone important to us knows we’re out there
sleeping in the middle of a soft dirt road,

and tries to gather us up
like a bundle of dirty laundry,

we say we just wanted to lie down and rest for a minute
on something forgiving.

from Rattle #51, Spring 2016


M: “I’ve heard it said that sometimes poets must lie to get to the truth. However with this poem, I decided just to tell the truth, and hoped that would do.”

Rattle Logo