The Beheaded


Some scientists, this week, claim there was time
Before the big bang, citing evidence
That shrinks the cheap shirts of our lives until
Our bellies are revealed like perversions.
It's enough to reconsider the time
Before the big bang of our conceptions,
The world at ease with our absence, taking
Its ordinary time through centuries,
None of them ending in apocalypse,
No one rising from graves but characters
In stories, and yet I'm thinking about
The brutal contractions of loneliness,
Its extraordinary, unheard screaming
Before the wailing of what's become us.

My student, just yesterday, insisted
We'd recognize our beheaded bodies
As long as forty seconds, sufficient
For understanding. An insomniac,
She tells me she can see her sleepless self
The way the beheaded watch their bodies.
Such sight comes with wakefulness, she explains,
Her body prone for hours like a patient
Etherized, yet awake, one more story
I've read, someone hearing a surgeon speak
The soft, private language of hopelessness.

Or this common story, my father's place,
This afternoon, among the nearly dead
In a room with a door that doesn't lock.
He's wrapped in flannel shirt and two sweaters,
Each buttoned to the throat while the heat hums
From every baseboard as he takes his pulse
Each hour, expecting to hear, I'm sure,
The incredible first silence of stopped.
I wheel him to the window he purchased
Thirteen years ago, the stained glass mural
For my mother nearly a decade dead,
And he recognizes nothing until
I set him inches from her name and his,
Saying "read every word" like a teacher,
Already looking back on my visit
As it topples headless into the past.

How the world ripens without us, how mouths
Welcome its beauty and we are sorely
Unmissed, becoming spirit or nothing
But a generation's occasional
Remembering. And yet we are able
To answer annihilation with names
That science hasn't slaughtered; not yet, not
If we refuse to relinquish the love
That extends our moments by embracing.