Death, A To Do List

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No one talks about the meticulous chores that follow death, the seemingly vestigial arrangements that one must make without complaint, and without recollecting memories. How after one’s loved ones are gone, buried or burnt and prayed for, one must unsubscribe to the list of magazines and newsletters that keep making their way in through the letterbox. 

Someone must make calls or write letters to close family, and without losing their composure recite the date and time of the funeral. Those around you suddenly seem to look older than their age, wrinkled, sleep-deprived, and soap-smelling. An anonymous guest finds their feet in your kitchen and makes everyone tea, bereavers must eat. 

Often, the place where they once lived, laughed, moved with life in, comes to be settled with dust before someone remembers to clean and mop, contact a broker and sell the property. Things need to be given away, medical bills filed, insurances claimed and bank accounts closed. A police officer might visit to create a certificate of passing. An appropriate photograph is added to the mantlepiece, not one where they look too old, or too young, just right. What do you do with their coin collections and unopened box of assortment biscuits?    

Between the questions, the taxes, the law and the prayers, sometimes you forget that they are, after all, dead. Still made of skin and bones, but lesser in ways you cannot explain, even though all that is missing is breath. O2, Only Oxygen. It’s almost as if they left behind their papers and their home, unorganised and in need of caring, so that you can grieve without pain, live each day more easily than the last, and slowly heal yourself as you fall asleep tired and spent by dinnertime.  

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Postcode

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I wrote a lifetime of letters to you
in days of sickness and in health 

When the soup wasn’t salty enough,
and when little Rob was blue, red and other colours 

I invited you to my sister’s wedding
bought flowers, and sent grieving notes on your mother’s death

Wrote my food-in-a-jar recipes
on old postcards,
and stacked them by the fridge 

Papermessages like papyrus breaths
lay piled atop each other, smudged somewhere

The address on the postcards
had a missing house number,
and a postcode few numbers less.

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Grief etcetera.

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Grief comes with its furniture, misspelled postage on the packaging. It leaves around the bubble wrap and the cushioning hay, empties the cartons and arranges it chaos while humming a French song whose words mix with each other. It places a desk against the wall, like it were here to stay. Your claylike body accepts the weight of its four metal feet, as they are pressed on like tattoos. It brings a typewriter with missing keys, papers torn from thick books no one ever finished reading. A chandelier made from collected shards of glass, sharp enough to slit your fingers. A flowerpot with magnolias that it never waters. 

A second-hand sofa and a table with an Italian lace cover, that shows dust between its cream coloured reticulations. A can of dark blue paint that looks like it could hold stars but doesn’t, to paint the windows nightly. Grief brings no blankets for the cold. But oil lamps, yes, it doesn’t trust electric bulbs. Sometimes, it sits in the dark on a rocking chair that neither recognises it’s weight nor oscillates, and if you pass by it, you may not notice it. 

Grief brings a clock with no hour hand. A cracked cup that cuts its lips every time it tries to take a sip of juice. There is no mirror, no cabinet or extra spoons. There is an eggshell shaped flask that it dreams of keeping a fish in. Grief has no name, and plans to call the fish with hoots. It keeps pebbles on the floor, blue, grey and brown, like a half-made seashore that someone forgot about. And a refrigerator to keep mechanical tools, a spade and an axle. It has a radio that needs a change of batteries and crackles with transmission buzz. A hotplate to cook food, and a piece of paper with emergency numbers written in haphazard handwriting.            

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Old-School

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I wish we lived in an age of letters and radios and playing in the parks in the evening. An age of passing smiles to strangers and reading poetry out loud to share your favourite lines. Having to go out to buy flowers and fresh beans for tonight’s dinner.

But in the pre-computer age, how do you tell someone you miss them when they are miles away on their birthday? Shall I write you an e-mail at midnight, and pretend to have loved you in letters? Let technology save us sometimes when I want to show you the colours of dusk in my sky

 

#MarchMosaics

The Shape of Snow

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You squint your eyes and look outside the window, trying to discern if it’s snowing against the bedsheet white sky, or whether all of this is a passing illusion and you still haven’t quite woken up.

You look down at the swatches of grass and the cement of the roads for a sign that will give it away, for settling clouds,

but snow falls like whispers, kisses from a secret lover, full apples dropped from a tree that smash against the earth and turn unrecognisable the next second,

it’s already being pinned under walking boots and seeping into the fine geometric lines on the pavement,

Look.

 

#MarchMosaics

Lives

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In some lives, you are slow, as you watch the watercolour spill softly across the grass. Turning from blue to white, then meeting pink and red pools and quickly quilled into flowers.

On other days, hurrying, a paraphernalia about to turn into a painting waits spread across the living room floor. You leave violet fingerprints on the knob as you leave home.

 

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Apricot Conserve

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Sometimes, buying marmalade can be a big step. It could mark the settling down in a space, the waking up to a familiarity, claiming a spot in a refrigerator that wasn’t yours yesterday. I think there is something romantic in walking around the kitchen, eating toast without a plate, and spreading your arms on the sofa, like you belong here.

It might be how you start making a new life.

 

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You

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When you walk out of a forest, you turn into a tree. No longer human and made of skin. Your arms are barks, your legs are stems and you must let birds sit and chirp on them all day long. Before you notice, like wrinkles, your leaves will age. Like rings, years will settle in the iris of your hazel eyes.

And when you reach the city you can try to hide, camouflage yourself between the skyscrapers that rush past your neck, fit yourself between two grey towers, a little space on the pavement, on a hillock in a community park. But you will still swing with the wind, shed leaves in autumn and dress roads with your blood oranges. Your branches will spread, and the world will know where you’ve been.

There is no hiding it. You are a tree now.

And you must grow towards the sunlight until you catch fire and burn.

 

#MarchMosaics

What Comes This Morning

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Rain falls like broken pieces of a long silver thread. Reminds me of the silk you wove around your fingers, wounded your hands in until your knuckles were dressed in cages. Cages made of little malleable rings that can be broken with whispers. This rain sits like a clue on my window when I wake up in the morning and brush the curtains aside, like words from a language I cannot speak but love the sound of, like your German. It sounds like the music from an old English fairytale, the kind you would read to a young girl before she went to bed if you lived in the 1300s. This rain is from another time, a ghost that came knocking last night. It is gone now, but has left traces, like footprints lingering in snow, in its passing. When I wake up, I first see its specks of silver on the glass, and then, the ground outside, untouched. The sky has ruffled its grey coat, worn it inside-out, no threads waver from its confettied stitches. But now the memory of rain saddens me deeply, for I have missed the morning’s song, a beautiful bedtime story, all your words rolled beautifully into one, morgen, liebe, plötzlich.

Thingummies

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I remember those places I visited as a child through words I do not know. I miss my first home in the flowers that I never learnt to name. Those white petals that had bright orange stems, resembled jasmines, were strewn about the road. I know the way they smelt, and I know how they left wet patches on the soil when crushed by our car tires leaving.