The Reception Line
Last night, I dreamt about Aunt Percy,
the spunky alcoholic I so loved for
being who she was—funny and flawed.
Leaving a bar one night when she was young,
she rammed her car into a back road bridge abutment,
then made her way in heels to the closest farm
and called the police, complaining that someone
had moved the bridge. Aunt Percy, old, was in
my dream’s reception line: she offered apricots:
cold and sweet. “Aunt Percy,” I said, you look
wonderful. “But thin,” she said, and it wasn’t good.
A question came up: someone in the family
needed immediate help. “Don’t worry,”
I said, which is almost always a mistake.
I think dream-talking with the dead may be
a sign my own death’s not far off, and
little time left for me to tell it
like I think it is, which is the farthest
honesty can take us while we breathe.
In the dream, I spoke to my father,
and was glad to see him looking well.
The last real time was in a Scottsdale hospital:
I went in as soon as the nurses were done
with bathing and shaving and feeding him.
Garbled as he was, he got out my name and
rumbled something about “feet” and “cold.”
I rubbed his feet till he signaled me to stop,
left a picture of my mother by his bed,
and walked back to his nearby empty house,
meaning to return after lunch. I was
hardly in the door when the hospital called…
In the dream, my father, too, was standing in
the reception line: he looked happy and
healthy. I said I was glad to see him. Then,
I added, speaking from someplace deeper than
memory, “You’re my father, among other things.”
When I woke up, I knew: my father’s love
was like a ship and the ship wrecked and
went down and wood floated to the shore of
the island of my life, and I picked up
all the timber I could and used it for
fires when the nights were cold.
When we die, it doesn’t matter what we had,
only what we did. You may, like me,
be so close to the edge,
your feet are beginning to get cold.
Your dead, too, may have formed a reception line—
and so many in our family need immediate help.
From This Green Life: New and Selected Poems (Transcendent Zero Press, 2017)