The first time death comes,
the house freezes and puts up its hands.
What only did its job cannot be blamed:
The soup bowl nourished;
the blankets warmed;
the drapes shaded the eyes at bedside.
Part of the cycle, they say,
but the promise feels broken.
These locks, these rooms they all dust carefully,
should let no one slip away.
At night, the outline still on the mattress,
they crouch below it and play detective.
There is no crime here, only a scene.
Can they piece it together?
They share what they know.
Was there a last meal? Yes, the can of soup.
The lips groped for the hot, steady spoon.
Was there a last song? Yes, the old Sinatra
on the turntable, slapped there in haste.
Were there last words? Yes. The mother heard them
whispered in her ear, but will not say.
They open the drapes
to let the sun spill back.
The light changes what none of them will.
The grandfather’s cigarette
waits mashed in the tray,
craved when it was inhaled last.
His solitaire hand, almost won,
waits for the few face-down cards.
Were there second to last words? Third? Fourth?
Not knowing the answer, they hug and cry.
The morning of the funeral,
they invent new orders.
Breakfast starts at seven sharp,
coats and ties on around the table.
Mourning will cost $1.50—
the tollbooth fee. Each one offers quarters.
The boy helps the girl into the car,
shuts her door for the first and last time.
© Michael Miller