after Paul Kelly
Afterwards I wear the same clothes
for days, one sleeve torn from shoulder
to cuff and flapping like a scarf of old skin.
A friend I’ve never met is holding my hand
and we are looking back at what I’ve left:
some sleepy reunion on a hill heavy
with wild grass, a lone pine casting its net of shade,
a short picket fence. I watch you drop a daisy
in the grave. My brother has his arms around
my sister, his face pressed against her hair.
And of course my mother is there,
a garden spade in one hand, the other in yours.
My friend hurries me toward a stand of black oaks—
we pass through chaparral and sagebrush, a patch
of poppies in an open field; they’re glowing
in the evening air, orange petals tipped with gold.
Later I’m alone, flying above houses, the turquoise
swimming pools, dark lawns. I drift through
an open window and float above our bed.
It’s your shape there below me, wearing a shirt
I left in the hamper. You keep to one side
as if I’m there, and though the curtains flutter
in my wake, I’m just a draft, invisible as air.
You pull the sheet tight to your chin as I circle
close to the ceiling, the dust lifting
from the lampshade, the doilies on the bureau
rustling beneath framed photographs.
And when I leave, the curtains follow me out
the window, empty nightgowns
forgotten by the ghosts who used to wear them.
I pause there above the hedgerow.
I tuck the curtains back into the room.
James Harms is the author of seven books of poetry including Comet Scar, to be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011. He is a recipient of an nea fellowship, the pen/Revson fellowship, and three Pushcart Prizes, among other honors. A Professor of English at West Virginia University, he also directs the low-residency mfa program in poetry at New England College.