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Linda Aldrich

End of the Line

 

The box smells damp, decayed, perhaps like the casket

the teenage boys dug up when I was 10, pulling out

 

Clara Smith from 1850, propping her up at the Valley Street

bus stop: black crinoline dress, lace-up shoes, pleated

 

bonnet, hair flying around a face of bones and holes.

Halloween prank the paper said no living kin.

 

That made it OK for them, I thought, to put the photo

on the front page and for me to find it funny,

 

the bus pulling up, opening the door, unable to board,

didn’t have the fare, so Clara was caught bone-handed

 

on Saturday morning, trying to get home, but not back

to Jesus, just to her kitchen with those ancient potholders

 

and a drawer crammed full of keys, covered buttons,

small porcelain knobs, yellowed envelopes containing

 

snips of hair only she could remember.

Perhaps the boys had done her a favor?

 

***

 

Obituaries say no living kin, never living kin. Close kin

and close predeceased are named, while nephews

 

and nieces who drifted away or ran for their lives

are too many to count, or never counted, and are called

 

numerous for those who want to say at least something.

I cut through layers of twine and a warning

 

in my great aunt’s loud cursive don’t ever throw away.

As the childless renegade, I’ve ignored these

 

curled-up photos of my not living kin, shuffled together,

clinging to each other in a moldering montage, peering

 

around broken edges at me, or rather eternity. Some smile,

some would never, and I sink into all I don’t know

 

and how they’ve come down to me, the last to be seen

alive with them. What would they have me do now,

 

we who never knew each other but are part and parcel?

A declining world catches in my throat.

 

I’d like to leave my Claras and James Henrys

at the bus stop some dark morning.

 

***

 

Instead, I hold them up to the light and touch their faces,

read what’s written on their backs. Great-grandmother

 

Elizabeth with her solemn face and the dress she made.

William James with scuffed shoes, hands clasped.

 

Edith and Harold in wicker chairs. Gravestone

of infant Marion and mother Ernestine, 1887.

 

Martha, Richard, Kathleen, Emily, Garnard.

Ahhhh, I say. Ah-men, Ah-women.

 

Ah to the theys and the not-theys and the many ways

we name ourselves. I say thank you.

 

I will make a boat of you and set you on the water.

I will wait for wind.

 

 

The seldom rain

 

brims the edge

of drying leaves

and hesitates

before it drops

as beads

that bounce

that break

but never saturate

the pavement

we have made.

 

The world’s grown hard.

It dessicates.

All that flies

is bullet-shaped.

 

My body that was once a lake

is now in drought.

You see the very least of me,

my fears my doubts

have hollowed out,

and all that I’ve held back from you,

especially my love for you,

the ways I haven’t touched.

 

The world’s grown hard.

It dessicates.

All that flies

is bullet-shaped.

 

This empty gourd can still make sound.

My feet can pound the sand.

I fiddle forth this dance for you.

I sing this song.

I let my cheeks grow wet.

 

 

Linda Aldrich has published three collections of poetry, most recently, Ballast (2021). She won the 2023 Maine Poetry Award for Short Works, and was the Poet Laureate for Portland, Maine, from 2018 to 2021.

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