after my mother’s funeral   standing in the receiving line just
below the altar rail shaking hands with people I hardly knew
when Kenny  a face I hadn’t seen in twenty years    appeared and
grabbed me and hugged me so damn hard the wind went out
of me  the pain so quick and hard I thought I might have snapped
a rib   then pulling away he gave me a look that spoke from
down the years   the inarticulate contrails of boyhood    high school
the hovering interim before we get sluiced out into the waiting world
jobs  relationships  marriage  kids  divorce for me    highs and heartbreak
of a different kind for Ken   life yes  with all the dents and deaths
we find our way around or through   the passing of mothers    fathers
along the way  mine in this moment the parting shot that’s brought us
strangely back around   where faces filter past    Kenny’s among them
sorry  sorry  sorry   and move on.
odd  it must have been ten years next time I saw him  I was on my knees
cleaning and trimming my mother’s grave when I sensed a figure’s tentative
approach and there he was  Kenny who’d come back  here today to tend his
family plot somewhere down the row   a pleasant sunny day as we stood there
by the graves talking quietly  as if it were the most ordinary thing  meeting again
among these granite inscriptions of the dead  a village in itself  family names
we’d known since childhood  their implicit premise of belonging lingering  even
then  like the remembered smell of burning leaves   more so perhaps than when
the names had faces  flesh and bone   something tender  almost delicate  in the
way we spoke  standing there  older now  no longer boys.
years again   my sister  who had known him through it all called to tell me
Kenny had been diagnosed with cancer   I got in touch and we arranged to meet
but things went downhill pretty fast from there and soon he sent word  sorry
he wouldn’t be able   and like that  dust to dust  he was gone   buried or burned
I never knew   shit  you’d think I would’ve followed up   gone back and found
his family plot  checked to see if a marker had been added in his name   let the dead
bury their dead Jesus said   I suppose   still Kenny comes to mind more often than
he’d guess   as now  that jolt  that look he gave me in the receiving line  as if we were
going off to war   or coming home from one  and the way we spoke with one another
by the graves   we might have been memorials ourselves   figures graven as in stone.