Like most children, I used to make myself dizzy
by turning around and around
as fast as I could, arms widespread
to keep me balanced until my feet tangled
and I fell to the ground,
everything swimming, all the colors of nearby trees
blurry, all the noises vague sounds
until my head cleared. Then how the world steadied!
Everything flying back into its place,
as in a reverse motion movie
of bricks returning to a shattered wall,
an actor coming back from his own death
on some foreign soil. . . . I fell
out of the tunnel into—how can I tell you?—
an incredible garden, an impossible garden
of wildflowers, spring flowers, bamboo,
summer roses, sunflowers, miles of irises
stretching away from me in massive spokes of color,
Jessie’s Song, Witch of Endor, Barbary Coast,
New Moon, Pulsar, Quasar, Tequila Sunrise,
and trellises, tulips, violets,
tiny mayflowers alongside huge day lilies,
the scent of every evening you ever loved,
deep mountain valley scent,
velvet scent, violin trios, foxglove,
a field of Queen Anne’s Lace in the morning sun,
morning glories. . . . When my grandfather died,
the last words on his lips were, “So, it begins. . .
how beautiful, how beautiful. . . .”
In my holographic body, I stood up,
morning mist clearing. Above me the tunnel,
like a dewy spider web, a giant hanging veil,
shimmered and vanished. My name.
Someone was calling my name. So, well,
I must have taken my name with me. Two women
appeared at my side and put their hands in mine,
women I’d always known yet did not know until then,
who’d died years before me,
who loved me, who I’d loved and always would.
they led me toward a small gardener’s shed
or was it a small cottage
beside the garden wall? I had to duck my head
(what a strange expression!)
to enter. Inside
they had me sit in a wobbly wooden chair. Then,
kneeling beside me, started to explain
what had happened and was going to happen. . . .
As if from a great remove, as if novocained,
my whole body numbed, I only bowed,
only vaguely understanding
but so calmed, I only nodded
because it was so natural to be warmed
and comforted by their voices, their obvious love.
“But first, before your journey, your neykhor,
there are those who wish to see you. To do so,
they’ve taken on the forms by which you remember them.”
Standing, letting their graceful hands flow
down their bodies as they smoothed the ripples
of their long Quaker dresses,
they stepped back from me. “Smile!”
I heard, and at arm’s length before me stood
my mother’s brother, dressed in a running suit,
who stepped aside and revealed
my mother, lovely, in her thirties,
eyes brimming with tears. “Nothing profound,”
she said, “just this: it’s all appearances
and you must be strong.”
Speechless, I nodded. After her,
grandmothers, grandfathers, a whole throng
of lost high school friends,
the poet Frederick Morgan saying “I told you so,”
as he had long ago, one morning we’d shared
bacon and poached eggs in a New York city bistro.
More colleagues and neighbors. Most simply sighed
and squeezed my hand. Some few
said things like “Noon flowers”
or “Watch out for the Pass of Strangers”
and one, a roommate from a college year,
matter-of-factly told me, “Whatever you expect
won’t be what you expect. In the Bardo, Man,
you’re up the creek
at the same time you’re down,”
or something like that. So many.
I had not thought death had undone so many.
At the line’s end
scores of familiar-looking strangers,
each saying “Thank you” for something I once did,
and had forgotten. No deed unrecognized. My last greeter
gave me an embarrassed hug
before she, too, pushed past me and disappeared
into the garden. No man is an island.
O where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Look down, look down, that lonesome road.
I felt myself floating,
first a foot off the ground, then higher,
so it seemed I was slowly gliding
over a Vermont maple forest at the peak of autumn color,
a small wind carrying me across yellows and reds,
oranges and stubborn deep greens—even higher
up into the mountains, a few snowflakes
begining to cling to the higher boulders,
ridges and peaks. And the wayward wind
is a restless wind. . . . They call me the wanderer. . . .
I was born the next of kin. . . .
Slowly, the snowstorm thickened as I was blown
across swaths of dark blue sky.
“Nooo. . .” I heard a man’s voice moan,
“Nooo. . .” A hand brushed my thigh,
another clung to my wrist a moment,
a third shoved me over,
sending me tumbling into a dusty pit
of ghostly bodies forming into torsos,
heads and Dantesque faces.
Yet this was no Inferno.
It was the afterlife my own thought led me to,
for what we imagine will be (after we die)
comes more or less true,
each earthly religion having grasped a part of it,
all of them met here
in what was about to happen to my spirit,
the intangible puff of me
that had already lived so many times before
as monk and beggar, whore and Pharisee,
soldier, priest, peasant, slave, abandoned child,
murderer, good wife,
and, now, in my last life, just flesh and blood
of no consequence
beyond the immediate—an ordinary man
living a small town existence of nothing special,
a cowardly being, neither bad nor good.