Great Aunt Helen’s house had stairs
of legendary steepness. I remember
crawling with my hands clutching
the wooden boards of each higher step.
She used to sleep up there until her back
became hunched and the flight dangerous.
She also had a pump organ and played
a song for us every visit. So surprising
her performance, this frail, bird nest
of a woman with hollow bones that pushed
and pumped air into the organ’s pipes
making it sing. And she sang
a warbling, shaky vibrato in the silence
of my family’s audience. Like water
from stone it seemed, so out of character.
I wish I’d loved her more, if what
I did back then could be called love.
Mine was no sacred thing.
She was my first death, human at least,
the first funeral, the first open-casket
visitation. My sister cried, my mother cried,
and I was told it’s ok if I couldn’t handle her body.
I walked to the front of the chapel, saw
how rigid she was, my eyes dry as stones.