Obituary

By ROBERT CORDING

 

In your obituary I concluded, “Muriel lives on in…”

and went on to name myself, my two brothers,

and your eleven grandchildren. I may have been thinking

of Pasternak who said something like our life

in others is our immortality, or I may have just been

looking for a way to make your life continue

even as I announced that it was already finished.

Well, mother, I confess, if your life continued

in mine, I have been wasting it. I’ve forgotten

what you taught me: how, despite whatever may be

happening, one gets up and gets going.

Cook something. Do the dishes. Take a walk

to the pond. Clean your closet. Fix the faucet.

You never suggested or asked. You ordered.

Once, on a late Sunday afternoon, the dread

of school overtaking my childhood self, I was

lying around on the living room rug, like the sullen

lodged in the mud of Dante’s Inferno, complaining

about how I was bored, bored, bored,

when you slapped me, and told me to get my coat

and go outside. Late autumn, the trees empty

of leaves, everything brown and gray, I gathered

a pail full of fallen crabapples—the task you’d given

me to complete—then began to throw them hard

at the trunks of trees in the adjacent empty lot,

loving the pulpy thwack and the way those apples

that struck home left a dripping mark. I didn’t want

to stop. I was punishing those trees the way you had

punished me, but soon I wasn’t thinking anything

at all. I was breathing fast, and I was sitting

on the cold ground, and the pail was empty,

and I was hearing the silence that comes after,

and I swear, I could feel the pinks and grays

of the sky inside my body, the sunset turning

the day holy, but that must have had more

to do with what I’d done, which was hardly anything

more than complete a simple task, like this poem,

mother, which I’ve ordered myself to write

because I didn’t know what else to do.

 

[Purchase Issue 13 here]

Robert Cording is the winner of two NEA Fellowships, and Professor Emeritus at College of the Holy Cross. He has published eight collections of poems, including Walking with Ruskin, runner-up for the Poets’ Prize, and and his latest, Only So Far (2015).

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