Our grief group meets in a room where children draw turkeys by tracing around their hands and hang strips of purple ribbon as reminders of the homeless.
We are homeless, too, and trace outlines of our stories over and over, wishing we had a simple word for them, like hand.
At first we barely hear above the torrent of our individual loss. Slowly we become generous with our grief, and one death becomes many. Not the many of Treblinka or Cambodia or Darfur, where many is a particle of dust. Not even the many of Omaha Beach, where you can walk among the crosses and Stars of David or read names and see to the end of the white rows that fit beneath the trees—or, distant from the beach, huddle with the German dead, who lie face-to-face under squat black crosses. This is the many of Josh, Georgie, Alex, Sarah, Tank, DuJuan, David, Julie, Norman.
The stages of grief have left for the day.
A man wanted to move on, so he sold his house. Now he lives in two houses.
Grief flows to the sea where everything is true at once, every story matters.
Coyote wanted people to die because they had fingers and he only had paws.
Tell me more stories.
We bring our dead with us when we meet. They gather in the corner, all of them young: the one who fell from a cliff, the one who accidentally shot himself, the two who died of a drug overdose, the three who were hit by a car. They play with the child who fell from a window. When they hear their names, they look up. They listen to us talk about replaying a final message on an answering machine, smelling an unwashed shirt, seeing initials and a birth date on a license plate. They hear how we see them in a college student waiting for a bus or a toddler carried from a car to daycare—or a boy shooting baskets before supper. If only the living knew such love.
Then one day they are gone. They don’t need us anymore.
The woman in the picture looks at me, her grin so broad it verges on a grimace. She is reclining on the grass, arms back, legs drawn up. She wears jeans and a tank top. She is a public yard-worker on break, her bamboo rake off to the side. Latina, full-bodied, she looks as if she could carry me like a sack of groceries. She stares at me from a photograph I bought at an art fair and hung on the wall over my computer at work. I look to her for joy, but occasionally she mocks me, puts me in my place, as my son would sometimes do.
I imagine her laughing for him, waiting to meet him at the end of her shift—say, in the square in San Miguel on Cozumel—handing him her rake to carry, him refusing, as he would; them sparring on the way to a little restaurant, where perhaps the others who are dead sit at a table with their drinks, including two for them. They join them, talking and laughing.
If we don’t get postcards from the dead, we send them to ourselves.
The Father’s Day card I keep on my desk has a picture of a moon on it. My son wrote in it that it reminded him of days before depression and drugs, when I would read him bedtime stories from a book that also had a moon on its cover.
Good night moon,
Good night cow jumping over the moon.
Good night stars.
Good night air.
Good night noises everywhere.
It was a card he sent to himself from the dead. I open the card, look at the words, the letters, the lines, then imagine the pencil, then the hand, the arm, the head bent over, concentrating, moving the hand.
Bart Galle is a medical educator and visual artist living in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a Loft Mentor Series Winner in Poetry and the winner of the 2008 Passager Poetry Contest for writers over 50. His poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets 2009. His paintings and poems have appeared previously in Water-Stone Review, White Pelican Review, Minnetonka Review, The Comstock Review, Main Channel Voices, Passager, Coe Review, Eclipse, and elsewhere.