Flying home from Seattle,
A man behind me mentions
The 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
I turn to see if it is you. A crazy thought.
Why would you be here?
Fifteen years since I heard your voice.
Still, I recall its timbre.
When you talked it sounded as if
You had a mouthful of stones.
I imagine what I would say today if we spoke.
Sid, I am sorry it ended like it did
Remember when we drank
Pinot from Misha’s Vineyard
on the paved brick square near
Christ Church Cathedral
and marveled how the church’s spires
spiked through the overcast New Zealand sky?
The news said the earthquake destroyed everything
Last night, I thought about the night
before we left for Christchurch.
I slept alone in your basement.
On the couch with blue tufted slipcovers.
You showed me a safe flush with cash.
For emergencies, you said.
What was your emergency?
Above the television, your rifle collection.
Next to your green ribboned uniform,
A commendation boasted your bravery.
At twilight you locked down the house,
A combatant ready for a nightly battle
I knew I should disappear,
But my desire to see New Zealand
Outweighed my desire for safety.
I unpack and pack again.
A 17-hour flight. My first time
In first class. You drank and slept.
I didn’t want to wake you.
The flight attendant, a small-boned blond woman,
Asks, would your father like something to eat?
Loud enough for her to hear, I answer,
He’s not my father
She shoots me an oh honey I get why you’re with him, look.
Our driver drives us to a five-star hotel.
One king-size bed. I claim my side,
And coil my body into a ball.
Thick drapes shut out time.
Tomorrow, a free day for you
So, we rent a car and travel past
Rows of white clapboard houses,
Small and square, like gift wrapped boxes.
Flower gardens face front, toys litter a few lawns.
Most of the day you search for wineries,
And find one named Man of War.
Later, sitting in Cathedral square
We toast to the venerable old church.
No one foresaw its vulnerability.
The next day I am on my own.
I hike Middle Earth, half expecting
to see a Hobbit. A tourist touring a trilogy.
Then I call a car, write a note,
grab my bags, book a flight back, disappear.
This morning, as I sat in front of my computer
Searching your name, your obituary surfaced.
A four-page listing of awards, accolades, achievements.
I thought about your list of lamentations–
Multiple marriages, children in crises, residual resentments.
That night in New Haven, a few months into our thing,
At a campus event, I lifted you from the floor,
Took you home, tucked you in, hid the vodka.
You need help, I told you.
What do you suggest I do, you said?
Did you expect an answer? I had none.
Yet I flew with you across the world.
Rushing into the storm, escaping its aftermath.
We are wounded, a nation afraid
of its reflection, splintered
into shards, scattered
among ruins, stained icons standing
in plain sight, legacies of decay.
We are pardoners, indulgers, climate
deniers, conduits for white hot anger,
unmarked cars, carrying hooded strangers
probable cause, probably not
We are evangelists, original sinners
Good religious people,
Hymn of the Pearl, we believe
in Liberty, zippers down
Amorality, repentance, comeuppance
We believe in guns, gates,
walls to protect us
from those who forgive us
as we would not forgive theirs
A yellow flannel shirt dangles on a hook
Boxed brown loafers more than you’d ever spent
I cajoled you to buy three pairs
A courtly blue pinstripe suit donate or keep
Black suspenders still buttoned at the waist
You said it was your lucky suit
A red dog-walking jacket feels heavy folded in my arms
Eyeglasses left askew on a frosted glass desk
Solitaire frozen on your computer
Cards tucked into a pocket the hand you drew
Foragers stop pick through rummage lying on the curb
A menu of leftovers
I watch from a window a white pick-up brakes
Circles back two men jump out take a splintered shelf
I keep what remains