I saw you die once, when the earth was still young to my bare feet, soft moss on soft skin. Somehow, in the bed of a blue pick-up— the one that still haunts the recesses of the garage— you let yourself crumble, like mulch in heat, like dry clay out in the rain. Someone told me once that, at the funeral, I asked if they were planting you? Old white pumps, gingham daisy dress, it must have looked like that. Your death became a seed, watered by imagination, loneliness, fertilized by photographs and other people’s memories.
I saw you die once, in July, when everything had reached a heightened sweetness. Somehow, you were prone on the rusted truck, your shoes scraping little ruts in the blue paint, your floral dress tangled up above the knees. You had looked at me, stretched out a hand. Forgiven. Forgotten. You had blessed me. Your tender shoots were torn up. I can swear I said something, someone told me once I must have, someone told me once that we were close.
I saw you die once, first there was your hair, tied back for some occasion in the tortoise clip, but windswept anyway, tiny curls along your temples falling gently towards your eyes: that quiet look, the one they said you saved for when you thought you were alone: the nose thin and notched above your mouth: which smiles, but distantly, that smile from the mantle snap-shot, the one of you looking past the kitchen window, the one where your smile is just right. Your body though, is more abstract: the dress, the shoes, collages splayed out like fallen petals, each piece an elaboration of the whole.
I saw you die once, but that was before I learned that history repeats itself, that photographs of summer stick with sweat. Before I knew that each invented image can be called again, recalled, made to fill the gaps between the words, the empty sky in so many faded pictures. Each new vision of that one event can be adapted, played over like a phantom limb, like perennials in the southern garden.
I saw you die once, but the ground has kept it secret, the dirt stuck firm under your nails, like lies taking root. And every sweltered month eeks memories from open pores. Each flower’s breath is cloying in the heat.
I saw you die once, your image shooting from neighborhood sprinklers. Each tiny suburban rainbow of spray seems to play tricks on the eyes. Sometimes I stop and look again.
I saw you die once, each image like a patch of weeds more beautiful than the flowers.
I saw you die once,
or so I’m told.