The Crystal Lithium


James Schuyler thought to call his book The Crystal Lithium
when he was my age without knowing he was going to die,

or knowing as much as he could because death was still
far away—the way I know I’m going to die.

I’m talking too much about my mother’s cancer, her fear
proof we don’t all come to peace or understanding.

Even though the pain is terrible, the dying like it better
than somewhere they don’t know, away from us, in the dark.

Ammons says in “Speaking” his lover will come close
after he dies, and his body, not knowing how to speak,

will say nothing. I didn’t know I didn’t understand
that poem until one night high, eating cookies in the kitchen,

my body finally understood what my mind had been reading for years.
I took my mother to Eastern Point Lighthouse

in Gloucester, past the Residents Only sign to the shore.
We walked as far as she could on the rocks toward the jetty.

Across the water, Boston floated on the horizon like we’re taught
heaven floats: foggy and distant and glowing.

In that far-off city we were younger, walking the South End,
actually smiling for the camera when my sister said smile, a mother

and son not understanding they wouldn’t always be—and hadn’t
always been—happy. Then we stood like that, our past

in front of us, my arm wrapped around her shoulders
because it was colder in September than we’d expected.

Aaron Smith is the author of, most recently, The Book of Daniel. He is associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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