If I die in June, the true end of our year,
exchange the storms for screens and summon the technician
to check the coolant pressure in the central air
before the dog days when the black drive wavers
and no bright metal can be touched, and then swap out the filters,
and now that our little grove of maple, oak and hickory
has shed into the gutters (O deeper than you imagine)
petals and dust and unfelt leaves, flush them out
lest thunderheads that build in the searing afternoon,
toppling, leave them weeping around you.
Yes, if I die in summer you will be hard-pressed
to keep the shrubs clipped back and the grass down
till the heat browns it, and to counteract metastases
of chickweed, black medic and poison ivy.
Circle the house now with broad bands of pyrethrins
to dam the streams of carpenter ants, and if they keep coming
seek out their nests in stumps and the garden's railroad ties,
and kill them, if you have the heart (as I might not)
to battle life, having so little left of your own.
Trundle the recycling to the curb infallibly
on alternate Mondays, or if in weekless summer you forget
what day it is, do it any day and wait till it is taken
as all things are. Repair the small appliances that faltered
while you were drowned with work and could not bother,
or let them go, since little these days is worth repairing,
and service the car for journeys you have been putting off
that you cannot put off longer, now the world grows old,
or do not, and tell the world it must come to you.
But after all, I would never die in summer. Say to our children
as usual his mind has wandered, only this time so far
he has not come perfectly back, and then think the click,
a little too long, of setting your glass on the endtable
in the twilit air you cannot tell from your skin, is the click
of me also invisibly near you setting mine down.
If I die in autumn, exchange the screens for storms,
and set traps baited with nut butters
along the perimeter of the basement
and foam-caulk all exterior cracks and seams
to foil the mice, checking also the chimney cap
and the screening of the vents to keep out flying squirrels,
native to these woods, though many do not believe in them
with their huge black eyes all pupil, and their rustling above us,
and summon the servicer of the big hollow furnaces,
for when the cold like empty boxcars rumbles in
and the heat is creaking in the aluminum ducts
you will be cold, coldbones, without me,
listening awake to, what is it, the wind,
mysterious disk accesses, creatures flowing in the walls?
Turn the clocks back, slide fresh batteries into smoke detectors,
and reset the timed lights, for the days grow shorter
and you will be driving home in earlier and earlier sunset
and the day will hurt you with its unexpected darknesses,
like the young husband who could not speak his mind,
and now, before the year begins in earnest,
weed out your files, discarding a third of all you have
as the trees will, since leaves, also made for a single year,
grow shabby and slow, and heavy snows would collect in them
cracking limbs off and splitting even the thick trunk,
and travel light, for all you carry you will carry alone.
And when all the leaves are down, even the reluctant oaks,
blow them into the woods, or call someone to blow them,
and then, only then, scoop out the gutters
once again, lest they clog and freeze, sagging with ice-mass,
or call someone to do it. Then drain the mower and park it,
or sell it since you will not want to keep it up
or let the gas sour and the valves gum, since you will not sell it,
and think that of all seasons this is the one I would never miss,
and say to our children he is out for one of his long walks
and the leaves are streaming through his eyes and heart and hair.
If I die in winter, when there is little to do
but wait till winter is over, keep watch on the upstairs windows,
and if they ghost with mist, turn the humidifiers down
lest the paint peel and the sills rot out.
Restock the pantry with beans, onions, and root vegetables,
and the soups you love, salty and fat and thick,
for green leaves and the glare of fruits would hurt the soul
which wishes now to eat darkly and be deep in the ground.
Wind the hoses, draining them first, in coils,
squeeze clockwise the indoor shutoff
and open the outdoor faucets wide, letting the last water out
lest in a coldsnap some pipe snap.
Now broadcast salt preventively on the drive,
for it is steep, and mornings slick, and snow frequent,
or sleep in and wait till the sun was worked on it,
since in a few hours the sun will work on it,
or a few days or weeks, for what is time now,
and how can I urge them on you now, these endless tasks,
who am not sure in my own mind if they were life
or what kept me from our life. Then tell our children
I have gone to lie in the abstract earth,
breathing stones like sky, restless as always
to fit the huge, sharp planet into my too-small heart.
If I die in the spring, that fruitless season,
scour the markets for the grapes and nectarines
of the other hemisphere, for it is always harvest somewhere,
but stay wary through the first weeks of March
when wet, heavy snowstorms still may strike, only then
stowing the shovels and bringing out brooms and seeds.
Squeegee the windows till they squeak with clarity
and lime the lawn against sour rains, and if now, already,
carpenter ants are trailing over the sea-blue carpet
defenses have failed and they have nested in the house,
so listen in the walls for a noise like crackling cellophane—
I can tell you where, in the beams between floors
where the slow leak of the shower has spread dampness—
and drill there and spread fatal powders
or do not, since though they chew a house down,
they chew slowly, slowly, slowly and the house
will fall when it falls, and not before your fall.
Start the dehumidifier, lest books demoted to the basement
rot there, or let them, since those we will never read again,
set the clocks forward, and once more change the batteries
in the smoke detectors, or do not, and when the fire insurance
comes due in April, imagine, at least, that you might let it go,
for how in this late cold can we argue against fire?
Yes, if there is justice, though I have said there is none,
I will die in spring, this season I love least
of beginning all over, I of no patience,
when hope is a door left unlatched in a high wind
banging and banging itself to pieces.
Now is, of all seasons, the season of paper,
and we have policies that make death a benefit:
you have lucked out, hit the jackpot, you are worth a million!
Now change your beneficiary and delete me from the mortgage,
Search out the bills in the right top drawer, and one drawer down
receipts organized in twenty-one categories
for the IRS—travel, supplies, books, charities, faiths, memories—
and burn them, paying no taxes, for this is the truth: you owe
nothing now, and were there a light Judgment burning in this night,
I would have come back somehow to warn you,
but there is no light, there is nothing, though you cannot believe it.
No, you will feel instead that I packed carefully,
taking everything that was ours, though I have nothing.
You will feel carjacked and pushed out on a curve,
watching the car you and I somehow are still driving
turn and stop and turn, until it has vanished
into the future we thought of, still happening without you,
though now, of all that could have been, there is nothing.
There is only where you are going, though you seem so still,
there is only that somehow we see each other
from two trains in the station, parting so slowly
we can't for the life of us say which of us is moving.