Sunday I visit my dead uncle at a nursing home called Island
Solitude. He’s dead, it’s our little joke. (The day nurse hates it.)
Great uncle, he’d remind. That’s right, great white uncle, the dead
one, to whom I owe everything I know, and the unworkable life
this knowledge affords me. I’m here to read to him but I hardly
get a word in. Uncle is fresh from a session with his social
club. They call themselves the Wise Dead, sometimes just The Boys.
He’s high on the afterglow of an audience and before long he breaks
into his one story, his one song: his own life, though sometimes
it’s like he’s forgotten how he knows it, or he’s bored
of the broad valley of his youth and the lines fall as in a dead music:
pine trees in dusk, donkey braying in the courtyard through which
passed women and milk and the mammon of glare. And now
bees are swarming his open soda and he’s half-asleep
in the drone of an air conditioner. I come over to him
and he takes a hand through my hair and I’m fingering
the cross he wears from his neck and he doesn’t know it.
I give him back his hands, hold them to his lips.
He comes back to a clause he can’t seem to attach: where once
I was alone… Which solitary island was this? Was it Ghost Ship,
Choral Lament, or Radiant Sadness? Was it Vacancy and Drift?
Had I been there too, on some pine-green evening, speaking
my wounds into the future? Did my own heart yearn to grab
for the simpering grammars again? A grandchild is loose
in the corridor, swinging a wrestling belt like a scythe.
Blue light drips from the rec room. And again Great Uncle,
undead as ever, starts up the machinery of the fallen life.
We’ve heard it before: the music of cedar stilled on the water’s
surface. The hundred names of the absconded.
At last I lift silence from the cup.
Brandon Kreitler is from Arizona and lives in New York. He was recently awarded a National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. The chapbook, selected for the award by Major Jackson, was published in May under the title Late Frontier. He was also awarded a ‘Discovery’ / Boston Review prize from the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd St. Y in 2010. His poem ‘Dress Rehearsal’ was just selected by former US Poet Laurate Billy Collins for inclusion in the Library of Congress’ Poetry 180 program. He has published essays—usually having something to do with poetry and language—in outlets like The Los Angeles Review of Books, AGNI, and Poor Claudia.