Ron has gone off to a conference in Washington D.C. and to see some friends we met when we lived there, in the Maryland suburbs. I was wishing I could go, but it’s the penultimate week of the semester and I have a class to meet and evaluation questions to think up, litter boxes to scoop, and dried and broken fern fronds to sweep from the floor of the bathroom where the fern hangs, sulking in brief gray daylight from the window and central heat from the floor vent.
We talked about poems we know by heart over Thanksgiving, and I recited my old standby, Yeats’ “That the Night Come.” I was thinking about Larkin’s “Home is so Sad,” though I didn’t want to recite it on a day that everyone was there. Afterwards, of course, everything remained “shaped to the comfort of the last to go” for a while, although today I finally took the sheets off the bed and washed them, in anticipation of December 20, when both kids will be home again.
We were playing a card game we’ve all played together for years, and while we play it we remember things my dad used to say, like that you don’t have to shuffle before dealing the last hand (one card each), which always infuriated my mother and Ron, or that he was getting so good at the game he’d have to go on the “professional Rage circuit.” This was especially funny because, like me, living with a very competitive game-player, he’d learned to let go of some of his own competitiveness, making jokes about it in the process. Now sometimes I picture the afterlife with him playing professional Rage, a kind of Monty-Python-esque Liberace-style piano player in the background playing “Ain’t She Sweet.”
It was after sending everyone off after Thanksgiving that I found Kathleen Aguero’s poem “Send Off” at Come Sit by the Hearth, and it struck me as finding just the right tone, the same one I try for while texting my mother about the bridge games she is playing at the retirement home while I trudge off to work through a bit of nasty freezing drizzle.
The dead are having a party without us.
They’ve left our worries behind.
What a bore we’ve become
with our resentment and sorrow,
like former lovers united
for once by our common complaints.
Meanwhile the dead, shedding pilled sweaters,
annoying habits, have become
glamorous Western celebrities
gone off to learn meditation.
We trudge home through snow
to a burst pipe,
broken furnace, looking
up at the sky where we imagine
they journey to wish them bon voyage,
waving till the jet on which they travel
first class is out of sight—
only the code of its vapor trail left behind.
First class. I’ve never flown first class; have you? And isn’t this an attractive picture of what comes next, that people get to do frivolous things they could only imagine while on earth?