Now There Here Then
Mason said, I must have picked it up from some little working girl.
He said, you do get that from kissing people, don’t you?
Black snake in the carport. You couldn’t tell the difference, except the hose was longer.
Threw up, refused the horrible yellow medication.
Anything kitchen yellow.
Don’t you get that from used needles?
Visit daily, bring his favorite food, hang pictures, bring magazines, watch old movies, try to make things that are supposed to happen happen. The rest is up to him.
And then there were the cows in our back yard this morning. They must have crossed the road into the woods from the neighbor’s farm.
Oh, just chase them down your driveway and over the bridge.
They seemed like people we knew, almost friends. We wanted to give them names.
Elsie, said Mason, remembering. The Borden’s milk commercial. That was then.
I have no control over what happens. Or who happens it. As Bob Dole once famously said.
Oh, you know, Mason said, waving his arms around the way he does, all this—it’s over.
You know, he said, we’re just an atmosphere of atoms. We’re not even here.
On the porch, easy chairs, couches, a view of the woods. Fresh air.
Blue skies smilin’ at me.
Says he can see himself in his grave. Red clay, wet, cold, immobile. When I cover him with a blanket, though, he says maybe he’ll live.
Don’t you get that from blood transfusions? Mason asked.
All afternoon taking pictures with each other down among the daffodils.
Mason stealing bulbs to plant in his own back yard, his childhood home.
Hates anything not then.
The feeling of loss like static, he said, on the radio.
Served chili to his guests on his dead mother’s best Limoges.
Did you know, he said, that Mount Rushmore erodes one inch every 10,000 years?
He wants to go home.
When I woke up this morning, he said, it seemed I was almost alive. I could feel my spine, believed I could go downstairs, tumble some oatmeal, drink some milk, not throw up. Eat a banana. Remember my name.
I hate my life.
Usually, he’d have let out a fluttery protest, as if in pain. He loves a protest.
This time, though, when the nurse and I wrestled him back into bed, he sang, in his throaty, unmistakable way, There is nothing like a dame …
I tell him he’s like Gandhi.
Who didn’t eat much but changed the world.
Who drank a few drops of his own urine every day.
Two weeks ago, he weighed 131. Today he weighs 123.
Professional scratch vocalist.
Whose voice was over and over again erased and erased.
Lyrics about how things can’t be put back together.
Said the doctor, it is of utmost importance that you take every single dose of your drugs every day.
Normal chest x-ray
Slightly low white blood count
Fungal infection of face and mouth
A kind of pre-leukemia
Headaches and nausea and general debility
I sent a bunch of peonies, 1985.
Skin stretched across high cheekbones. Translucent, beautiful, 1987.
Dead at 39. Dead at 24. Dead at noon.
Decades later. Mason no longer young. Mason no longer beautiful.
But then! Then, Ganymede, beloved of God.
Did you know that the welwitschia can live in the desert a thousand years on dew?
Maybe I don’t dream when I’m depressed.
His life is running backwards. Every visit could be the last.
What is my future anyway, he said. I’ll never go home again, no matter what.
Did it ever occur to you, he said, that the songs of the Great American Songbook could be about God?
Just think of you as You.
Who said to me, Will you marry me?
Inch-wide daisies in the dappled wood.
I know a man who’s afraid of ferns.
He said, don’t look so sad!
It made me laugh.
Why is he so unwilling to save himself?
When I asked the first time how he was, the sitter said OK. When I asked her a second time, how is Mr. Dixon, she said he passed. She said he passed and burst into tears.
He sat bolt upright in his bed. My chest is killing me, he said.
The last words he said to me, when I told him I wasn’t coming because I had a deadline, were I’m sorry.
I knew he’d had enough when he stopped singing.
He could wear a white suit like nobody’s business.
Where he really wanted to be was in his boyhood, or as he would have said, THEN.
Eyes half-closed, mouth wide open. The sheet said Angelica all over it.
Goldenrod along the sides of the road. Late summer, late afternoon, warmth of the revolving world shutting down.
I don’t know where we’re going, said Mason, but at this rate we’re never going to get there.
We gathered round. Dirt mounded by a small hole in the churchyard lawn. The rector undid the wire that tied the bag, turned it upside down, dumped into the ground, gray, with little bits of white, immortal bones, my darling, you.
I have pictures of us in that field of daffodils.
When you cross a threshold, it’s easy to forget what you came for.
Sometimes you have to go back to get something you remember you forgot.
But sometimes you can’t.
Did you know, he said, that the decline of newspapers is due to the fact that they no longer print unpaid obituaries?
I’ve planted daffodils all up into the woods. Mason’s bulbs.
Drank sparkling cider, poured the rest of the bottle over his grave, drowned him in sticky bubbles.
The train was going towards the river. Somebody waved as I stood by Mason’s grave.
It was going somewhere.
The caboose was an observation car with a large plate glass window, seats facing backwards for one last look.
This was not a dream.
Did you know, he said, that the standard American railroad gauge comes from the width of the rear ends of the two war horses that pulled a Roman chariot?
Did you know, he said, that in certain native tribes, the past is in front of you, which you can see, the future in back, which you can’t?
It isn’t then, now; but it was now, then.
* * *
The line was so long, I could only grab the veggies I passed as I moved forward.
Everyone in lockdown. Empty sidewalks. Empty skies.
I’m not asking that stupid question, how could God let this happen?
We’re tittering, says Hannah in her Dutch accent, on the brink of extinction. It’s nerve wrecking!
Just sit, says the meditation guru. It doesn’t matter if you fall asleep.
The early sun breaks through clouds and fog, whitening the steeple.
It’s raining in Paris.
Toilet paper in short supply.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds 20 times a day.
Hannah says that after the war they cut up newspapers into squares and put the squares on skewers next to the toilet.
Earth vibrating noticeably less.
Birds who had fled are coming back, their songs, which they had altered in order to be heard above the traffic, reverting to their original notes.
Deer and foxes, coyotes and bears sighted in cities. Wild turkeys on the streets.
People getting sick by the millions. Hannah says everybody’s going to die. Alone.
Papa, I’m sorry. I didn’t say good-bye.
A plague of murder hornets in Washington State, biting off the heads of worker bees, masses of carcasses outside the hives, gray and hideous.
Very difficult to know how it will end, says Hannah.
Are you disinfecting your groceries?
The Chinese claim to have landed a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon. Why do I think that’s funny?
One lone Mini Cooper drives around the Arc de Triomphe.
One red roadster, complete with dummy driver, circles the dying sun.
We might run out of paper bags.
We might run out of oxygen.
Bob, his mother, and sister all hospitalized.
The 1918 flu pandemic infected 1/3 of the worldwide population. My mother’s mother.
Tired, achy, sore from the vaccination.
Norma’s brother dead of the virus. In a refrigerated truck, two weeks so far.
My husband and I exposed at (naturally) the doctor’s office.
Alice recovered, only to find that her husband and children had died while she had a tube down her throat.
Everybody will catch this thing eventually, says the White House.
Should we let the housekeepers back in?
When Jay came off a ventilator in the ICU, the PA system played Here Comes the Sun.
In isolation. Can’t see my family. Might as well be living in Tibet.
Empty shopping bag, red cell phone, a Jordan sneaker, housekey dropped on the abandoned street.
I went to put on lipstick because that’s what my mother taught me to do. Then I remembered no one will see my mouth.
Some Black men are afraid to wear face masks.
We went to the emergency room, but they turned us away.
Annie ill in the nursing home. Her grandchildren’s hands on the window glass.
Where is everybody?
We don’t have all the information, says the White House.
My hair has been growing for months. When I put combs in to hold it up, I remember how my mother used to dig combs into my scalp to secure my braids for nursery school.
It hurt. That’s how I knew she loved me.
Seagulls in the swimming pool. Mourning doves on the balcony railing.
People aren’t willing to be governed anymore, says a health official.
Hannah taking the bumper stickers off her car.
The President says, Drink bleach.
I had gained 50 pounds and was standing alone, naked on a deserted beach. Waves were slowly destroying a sandcastle. The wind was tossing a beachball about. It blew my voice away. There was nobody there, or anywhere, to see or hear me.
I woke up trembling. Where are the children? What am I to do?
You could not possibly be positioned more poorly, says Dr. Fauci.
Oh well, says Hannah, fearing the worst, at least the two of us will be dead before the planet is.
Used masks litter the streets. Stars boring furious holes in the heavens.
Six video hours of sheep bleeting, grazing the grass between vineyard rows.
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