--CAN WE COUNT ON YOU?
The Birthday Album
The days are pages looking back at you on a table,
loose and uncollected like leaves
or your windblown hair.
See how you smile in this one?
And here’s your boy, swaddled like baby Jesus in your arms.
Pick up the picture in the right hand corner
and you’ll find yourself a little girl again,
glitter in your hair, face-painted cheeks and
bubble gum smile.
you lifted your face to the sun and said you’d own it,
and now, on this, the brightest of all days,
your claim has
rightfully come true.
The waves remind me
of days when we would skim stones
across the flat face of Storm Lake
row boats on the far side
sun eavesdropping like a bored blister.
You said we’d always be together
and though this very water took you years ago
I am here to celebrate you,
to help you keep your solemn promise.
Slithering inside a Folgers coffee can with
slits cut into the Saran Wrap cover,
a copper-tailed snake was the gift you gave.
In later years there were others—
driftwood embossed with a baby Jesus shape,
pints of just-picked blackberries,
a bouquet of daises you’d found in the slumped hills
behind our mobile home.
It was me who dreamed of riches
and you who never cared.
Today I kneel by your headstone
missing the magic of your simple kindness,
missing them but you
most of all.
Blue noses my palm for petting,
his eyes probably no different than mine—
tar pits, rheumy glue.
I pat the cushion
and he lopes up on the sofa smelling of soap
suds from the bath I gave him
He rests his canine head in my lap,
tongue bologna-colored and dry as toast.
I scratch the crease behind his ear.
I hold out the any new air,
staring at fireplace flames,
seeing the ghost of you
in the rage of red and rising smoke.
When our dog cocks his head,
I tell him,
“She’ll be back.She will.”