For Willem (2002-2016)


your evergreen forest
knit from pine boughs and hemlock
frayed by even the gentlest winds
without the swell of your breath
to shelter beneath
roots loosen quicker than I can tie them
slipping through my fingers to tangle
deeper into the earth
still, I forage in circles
for lines of poetry hidden between the trees
for you, caught river-lit and
moon-drenched in the heartache of it all
I find only silence that twists around my ankles
and I have grown tired of chasing,
enough for my ears to hum
louder than my own steps tracking white
like snow like ash
crumbling from the clouds
from the tip of the mountain
from the trees that do not change
so I do not know how many times
the seasons have come and gone again
the waiting makes
a hurricane of me
gasping rain


Forgetting is no longer a fog, draped delicate over your skin like over the mountains you wrote me from that April, but the dark that thickens over the treetops at dusk, a quiet to my eyes the same as the fog to my ears, but one I never expected. That letter sits with all the others, pine leaves still tucked into the pages that no, I hadn’t thought smelled like Colorado evergreens or mountain moss, but you. I spent years after your death under my bed, even long after their scent faded, making myself small enough to bundle into the pages, breathing in your words until I could taste them. But they grew stale without you, decomposing into whispers I could no longer cradle against my chest. It wasn’t until I visited your mother early last spring, realized the wind smelled exactly of you, if just a bit colder, that I stopped reaching through the fog to feel your face again in my palms. It was then that I let you grow raw, finally, so I could mold something different. I shape you, make a man of a boy, with the same messy brown eyes, the same messy brown curls, both a little goldened by the sun to match your skin, but taller, with your mother’s height, probably just right for my head to tuck under your chin, soft jaw chiseled with whetstone, stubble spread over your face the way you always liked on your father, to leave scratchy kisses on my cheeks prickling of pine boughs, tasting of tree sap, your voice the color of hemlock, deep and smooth—no, a little rougher, now—yes, I’ll make you a forest here, to fill with new seeds, new steps, new life, to fill with everything you couldn’t have, I’ll make an evergreen of you.


I have returned only twice to
your family’s cabin since your funeral—
both times in the past year,
both times for your mother.


Do you remember the nights we spent
outside the cabin in this tent,
burrowed in the blanket forts?
We curled together like spiders in the hearth—
the ones we’d cup in our hands and bring outside
before letting your father light the firewood.
Our hands were so small then.


She died twice in this life, your mother.
The second time from cancer.


We always fell asleep with the flashlight on,
do you remember?
Some nights I’d half-wake to the sound of
your mother unzipping the tent—
she’d switch off the flashlight,
pull the blankets to our chins,
give each our noses,
then our foreheads,
a kiss.


Your mother told me she had lost
two children that day you left,
but I could not believe her.
I still cannot believe her,
and for years, she tucked me in almost every night.
Your mother is the only mother I’ve ever known.


You always said it was too quiet here,
but it is even quieter now.
I have now missed you longer than I knew you.


Under this sky,
you made constellations
knitting stories between the stars.
I close my eyes
and the earth seeping through my skin,
the smell of the trees,
is enough for me to fall into the sound
of you speaking again.


At the tip of the mountain where
we scattered your ashes, then hers,
your father holds me
for the first time since I changed my name.
He gives me his old pocket knife—
the one meant for you with the hemlock handle.


The last night I ever saw your mother,
she crawled into the tent beside me,
curled up like a child against my chest.
I held her—
placed a kiss on her nose,
then her forehead.


With the tip of your father’s knife,
I carve a hole in the sky to make a storm.


Kei Lim is a sophomore at Amherst College and an Editorial Assistant for The Common.


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