Andy Warhol, Female Head, Hand and Flower (1958)
Andy Warhol, Female Head, Hand and Flower (1958)
for L.

When you left me here to rot
aboveground—preferring a disintegration
undersoil, solo—they did not publish
the story in the paper,
this being in poor taste,
your being far too young

to die, the Star-Ledger style guide
answering the question
of too soon
as if it were
mere matter of
journalistic protocol:

spell out numbers
nine and below,
describe a life as
stolen, tragic, cut short,
only if it meets
a certain standard
of womb-freshness.
When cross-sectioned you displayed
17 concentric rings.

The curious readers of
the ethical Star-Ledger
sought franker sources,
brandishing gifts
of meatball casseroles;
a Hallmark card whose voicebox
grew more strained each week,
its droll mechanical eruptions
the only time I saw
your mother’s face
take on a countenance
unlike rain-slicked stone;
daylilies weeping orange pollen
across the kitchen table,
green stems suffering
from trench foot.

These condolences offered up like bribes,
tastefully arranged corpses
in exchange
for the story
of your own,

how you were
self-shorn, how you managed
to pluck yourself from out the earth
and return to it once more—

I ought to divulge specifics:
the length of your little finger,
the slight crook in your neck,
how you scooped golden tree frogs
from the steaming pavement
after thunderstorms,
cradled them between your palms
like a proud father—

How the October before you died
we stood in your kitchen
carving pumpkins,
pulling stringy brains from out their noses,
ancient embalmers readying
mummies for entombment,

and you indicated a desire
to section yourself similarly,
tested at your wrist
with an entrail-stained knife,

just the blunt edge,
the faintest of
impressions, a guide for
future use, so
smart of you, even
responsible, ensuring that
your last incision
would be faultless.

It was just
a cruel trick
of the trick-or-treat
variety, you said.
As children we played pirates
in the grove behind
my house and once your
tree-branch sword met with my side,
blood pooling beneath my overalls,
bruising the denim, accidental,
you begged, Don’t tell,
I zipped my lips
and threw away
the key, still lost

among the moss
a decade later
when you asked
again, Don’t tell,

and I
was swayed by your plea
and I believed
that there were pills
you took and I
that they
save you—

for this crime
charged myself with
accessory to murder, negligence,
failure to commit

Me myself and I, acting as
judge jury and executioner,
found guilty
on all counts.

Recalling the tragic outcome
the last time
I went easy
on a troubled
juvenile, handed myself
a harsh sentence, Hammurabi
winked at me
with his good eye:

capital punishment, six months later,
self-inflicted, unsuccessful.

It has been suggested
that I ought
to seek
a pardon,
apply to myself
for clemency,

but the review board remains
unconvinced, furtively biased,
its sole member
visited each night
by the victim,

you return to me in dreams where you draw breath.