“I wish I could believe in the otherworld
I wish I could believe in a place
Of reunions outside of memory”
— Edward Hirsch (Gabriel, p. 69)
And I do. I’m a ridiculous person.
I / accommodate any belief
That helps my lotto wish / seem plausible.
Elastic pupils respond to shadow
with a hug: I / find myself in Heaven.
Things could / be worse, I believe. /
I never wanted to die, ever in /
a million years, or at least before
a hundred and ten, until I did the / math
and revised it to before Theo and Annie.
Otherworld. / In the first season
of True Detective Rust says, I could feel her.
I could feel. I could feel the peace of my Pop,
too, describing near-death as reunion.
If any wish / comes true, let it be that.
Death as a coming home into your dead.
I / will never forget gaping crosslegged
in my big chair, watching Matthew McConaughey
deliver those last lines, no better I’m sure
than innumerable others could / have,
but so known, so unconcealed, and still pulling it off.
Who wouldn’t want to believe / such a man?
Such an idea? What an understandable
man and idea to achieve belief in. /
We’re either, a) / meat, or, b) meat with a brief
letting go, a fleeting transcendence
of borders, bound for the same place /
as everyone we know and everyone
we can’t. When I asked Theo where he’d heard
about Heaven, he said from Grandpa Doug,
my dad, which I wouldn’t have guessed,
but it also seemed like he was giving me
a random name to obscure some truer source.
Heaven as contraband. Illicit substance
in our household. I told him I didn’t care,
Heaven’s a cool idea. He said, I think so too,
but Dad, if I died like right now, would you
be in Heaven with me even if
you were still alive? Of / course,
I said. Because he’s six. Plus, if a machine could
ferry the living (or even copies of the living)
to the land of the dead, for the sake of the dead,
without their (the living’s) knowledge
(either of having been copied or of being
in heaven with one’s dead beloved
even in the midst of grieving them on Earth),
such a machine would be Heaven.
It’s the living who wait for reunions. /
The day before my nephew died
(everyone knew it was coming soonish),
I felt in the way, didn’t want to clot
up the house. Thinking there were still days
plural, and not knowing whether or not
Mara would want to or be able to leave
before he died, I decided to drive
Theo, who was six months old, back home,
across the state of Michigan. I knelt down
in front of Julian, where he was propped up
on the couch. He was five. Could barely move.
Not wanting to give him the impression
that I was scared of him, or for him,
and wanting to somehow comfort,
I looked him in the eye and said, I’ll see you soon.
Then I went outside. / Yesterday,
it was windy at the beach, the waves
face-height at waist-deep, the water golden
with thick, plumeing clouds of the stirred-up silt
or sand. I couldn’t see my feet. In the fog
I’ve known, you can always see your feet.
In the fog I’ve known, though travel
might be impossible, everywhere you are,
every spot you move to, is visible.
It’s where you’re not that isn’t. But this:
My legs cut off mid-calf like an inversion
of the Colossus of Rhodes, snapped off
at the knees, the rest of Helios lost
to the harbor. Helios, who let his son
Pantheon take the sun chariot
for the day even though he, who his father
called Theo, was mortal, and wouldn’t be capable
of / controlling the horses, and would therefore burn
the world. After Zeus killed him (Theo)
with lightning, Helios lived forever
with the question of whether or not he’d known
that that would happen too, never able
to untangle it, never not seeing Theo’s grin
as he took the reins in the bird-woke dark.
No immortal could cope with memory.
It’d become too gravitational
with time. First, it’d pin them to the ground,
then pull them under. The other day,
I asked my grandpa to tell me the story
of his brother’s death. I knew he’d had a brother
who died young jumping into a lake,
but I lacked specifics. Grandpa, Ron, was seven,
his brother, Bill, ten. Their parents had told them
that if they got their chores done
by dinner they’d take them to the fair.
After morning fishing, Ron told Bill
he was heading back to get started on the chores.
Bill said he wanted to go swimming with his buddy
at the lake real quick, but then he’d be home.
It was dinnertime before Bill’s friend burst in
with the news that Bill was at the bottom
of the lake. I said I couldn’t imagine
what that must have been like for their father,
to hear your son is at the bottom of a lake
seven miles away in 1947.
I asked him what it had been like for him,
having been with Bill all morning and then
riding along in the car with your dad
and older brother and the friend out to the lake.
He said that at seven he didn’t understand,
couldn’t have understood, the permanence
of it. He was worried about Bill’s bike,
which had been left by the lake for how long?
Would it still be there? Would they let him ride it
back? When they got to the lake, they went out
on two boats. The son of a man who lived
on the lake dove down but came up scared,
so his father went in, bent down, and lifted
the dead boy up. I asked if the friend had said
how Bill had drowned. He didn’t, Grandpa said.
Bill had had rheumatic fever as a boy,
which had left him with a bad heart,
and so although the death certificate
said drowning (how do you pull a kid out
of a lake and say anything different?),
over the years, Grandpa had come to believe
that the water’s coldness had shocked his heart.
The mortician, he said, only got a teaspoon
out of Bill’s lungs. We were sitting by the pool
at my parents' house, me and Grandpa
and his wife, Janet. It wasn’t a good place
to end, so I asked what his earliest memory was.
They had a sassafras tree on the farm.
Grandpa was four, too young to go to school
with his older brothers and sisters.
He’d sit beneath the tree and listen
to the bell ring, a mile or so away.
My own first memory / is from my fourth birthday.
I had to pee. Standing on the stool
washing my hands afterwards, I looked
in the mirror and said, I am me.
I could hear my parents and grandparents
laughing in the living room, and it hit me:
they were here to celebrate my birthday.
Mine. I walked out into the hall, but hung back,
still listening, the sentence I am me
running through my head. I felt good, alive,
distinct, connected. But I didn’t tell it
to Grandpa and Janet there on the deck
because by then, I really had to get going,
get the kids back home in time for swimclass.
I remember the tops of the trees in the woods
beyond the pool rolling like surf in the wind.
Josh Weston lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his wife and two kids. His work has appeared in/at DASH, Passages North (online), and Right Hand Pointing.