Notes on a Dream of Dying

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I know this dream like the lines of my hand:
a spark, unplanned—what I see and see again,
though I wasn’t there—his hand, Zaki’s, on the door
of the car, his eyes, his face erased by flame.
A scream, a breath. Death piercing the oil tanker,
death holding his legs, death staying his brothers’
footsteps on the bright highway. My cousin Chiquita,
well loved of me, who fed me the caramel cake of our
grandmothers, who told me tidbits of tales, who tipped
her secret ring into the greens, and smiled at me
(at each of us, each) like her very favorite, she lurched
forward, spat blood. A flood came out of her that minute,
and, in it, all she’d ever bear or speak or give. I live.
I try to make her recipes. What of Zaki lives in me?
Six months we hadn’t called: I, him; he, me.
And, too, I’d passed his place on Bleecker Street:
no hello, no window glance. Just chance, I fixed
my mind that day to let him free. Three days
he’d been dead. How could I not know? This boy who,
twenty years ago, I’d hoped to see again some
short time hence: his heart unfenced, his cheek
in reach, his hand on my shoulder; me, bolder.
I’m forty; he’s forever twenty-two, his face,
ice-blue (or ice-black, in fire). He was the first in death
I ever knew, or thought I knew (I thought I knew).
Though years before, my mother gave her mother up
harder than this. And for months after, she’d look
beyond me to some further space, to some unpresent face—
her Jessie. God left her as she passed, in terror
of the devil on her last lucid day. The way she had
of walking with death: that Book in her hand, its
moon-dangling, star-spangling lunacy. Mom cursed
the slippery bliss that Jessie sought in God,
Jessie’s daughter at Jessie’s side unseen—unseen
and unknown. I didn’t understand until Zaki was gone
why she, my mother, couldn’t look me in my eye,
my final bastion on short-term loan, my empty
lunar lake, my lost, last home.

Amanda Gunn is a PhD student in English at Harvard University. Her work appears in Poetry Northwest, Redivider, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.

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