by Margaret Gibson

a letter to David

Now that you’ve entered the great silence
I search out your scribbled notes and drafts
the remains of your work-in-progress
Each word I say aloud, drawing each one
into my body as if body were a vault
for treasure—a word you used to say with
a long a. Treasure, pleasure, measure—
I echo your odd torque of the vowel
Had your luck been otherwise, those words
would have been forged by you into memoir
and genealogy, your life a well-made
volume of breath. And so I gather
the scraps, piece by piece; I try to finish
your sentences, I forage through files
and boxes, I nose about for treasure
as do the midwinter deer outside in a year
the oaks put out few acorns. I’d eat
the bark off a pine if I thought I’d find
beneath its tight inscrutable cover
a trace of your voice. I want to get through
winter, too—I’m simply an animal who
feeds on words, finding yours spilling into margins
balanced steeply on underlinings
many more crossed out in your rough-hewn drafts
I savor the words, listening for your voice
in a continuous, if tenuous, exchange . . .
I see it everywhere, exchange—nothing’s finished
I breathe out carbon dioxide, the summer oaks
take it in along with the sun, the leaves
power up, unfurl more leaves, give out oxygen
those doubled molecules I breathe in and in
without thinking much about it, but for
an occasional burst of gratitude
the sheer luck of being alive. Sheer . . .
A word so transparent, it might house spirit
the spirit I’d say, if I could make out
what it is. Up late, we’d often talk for hours
about a single word, a spirited exchange—
who knew where it would take us? And words
kept us close. But sheer’s partner is
stark, and together they make and unmake
treasure, pleasure, measure. What stays?
Firewood is a moment of being time, ash
also. Being time, we are like the shavings
that curled from the oak you planed into planks
to frame this house and lay the floors
Being time, we are whatever it is in us arises
meets, and merges into everything else . . .
Over the phone last night, your daughter
read me a letter you’d written her, found
tucked away in an old cardboard box
in the basement. Its subject: How many
can we invite to the wedding? A question
of some urgency back then. A time of treasure
pleasure, measure. Hungrily, I listened
to your words in her voice. Gentle words, and
wise, as you traced in an eloquent narrative
your passage in time through hardship to an
exchange of love no numbers can tally. That was
a moment. That was a meeting . . .
Perhaps a life’s work is just this moment
just this much, breath shaped and released
given freely into the clear light . . . How many
can we invite to the wedding? All of it
is wedding—an exchange of words and sunlight
a moment of bud and blossom begun
in a rustle of leaves, a never-before-now
utterance suspended in sheer daring
the words shining, briefly held by who knows
what, before being swept once more
syllable by syllable, vowel by vowel
beyond the passion to endure, beyond
the passion not to be lonely, beyond
beyond, into the full and everlasting furl of silence.

Last updated November 03, 2022