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The Favorite Flies Home

Elisabeth Harvor
From:   Fortress of Chairs. Vehicule Press, 1992

I envied her the tenderness
her grief earned her, down there
at the back of the bus

where she was sitting with her
husband's calm arm around her. He was
rubbing his thumb again and again

in the world's smallest circle
on her shoulder. Consolation a slow-motion
horse race--the drowsy circular

surge of it around and around the thumb's
stadium. The decorum of mourning
said she did not need to acknowledge it,

all that was required of her
was that she continue to commune with her sorrow
through the bus's green window. But consider it:

All her passive taking! It seemed almost an act
of love in itself. We were sitting three seats
ahead of her on a road that turned

and swung past low hills pale as tundra
but gone green from bus-glass
as if we were underwater and the grass

swimming all around us. She was
no older than I was, not long out
of high school, and already she had a death

and I had a baby. And more: I was seven
months on my way to the next one. I stood up
to pull a book and my husband's soccer jacket

down from the rack up above us. An excuse to
peek back over my shoulder to check
on the progress of mourning.
We dipped and turned,
the straw dunes came at us
in a pleasingly monotonous breast stroke.

Death, I thought, secretly
thrilled as a sightseer. Did a raven fly
over the streamlined bus while I thought it?

While the dunes of stubble
swam backwards past the sealed airless windows?
The following Sunday, a little after two

in the morning, my father died
without warning in the middle of
that night's darkness. Sad-eyed

hero of my childhood,
his death was the one death I had believed
I could never live through

and on the way out to the airport
I felt nothing but the euphoria
of having survived it.

We flew as the crow flies, two thousand miles
into the dying light of a June afternoon
while below us the innocent world kept

steeping itself in day-dark
then shifted itself into long strips
and allotments of light and dimmed light.

In the late June afternoon
we walked up the lane to the farm,
pale green and grey cars

feeding at both sides of the house like fishes.
I dreaded the first sight of my mother's face,
her ill-guarded hatred for her oldest daughter,
feared her first look might kill me,
and wincing against the fog the next morning
while I was spreading strawberry

jam on my husband's scratchy toast
looked out at the black bluff,
arisen from the mist at the end of the first field--

a row of caped, thin-ankled
mourners, the front ranks of the cedars.
I didn't cry at the funeral, or afterwards either

when I stood at the grave
in the borrowed black cocktail dress
my mother had zipped me into, my belly

a giant black satin tomato, I felt
nothing at all when I heard the brief June hail of earth
on the coffin, I walked hand in hand

with my little boy in the field of clover
next door to our town's clapboard cathedral.
People remarked on it. One neighbour--

I will never forgive her for it--said
"Your sister seems to be taking it a lot harder
than you are." The whole town

a hymn to a time gone to seed, I was
glad to leave it. Back home that October,
hearing the radio play a song

my father used to whistle, I lifted the baby
who'd been named for him up in his baby crouch
from the cooling water of his bath and

for the first time weeping,
recalled the grieving girl on the bus
the Sunday before the Sunday
he died. Walking into time backwards,
I searched for clues, looked for a premonition--for
the wish for my father's death, even.

Feeling at my heart
the bird's heartbeat
in that rosy

baby boy's body
I stood in the October morning,
jelled cold, jelled golden.

Elisabeth Harvor's works copyright © to the author.

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