By Mark Cox
Featured Art: The Madame B Album by Marie-Blanche Hennelle Fournier
We don’t show these family slides much,
in part, because the projector overheats,
but also because we miss my father’s litanies
of the dead and their diseases:
congestive heart failure; cirrhosis; even gangrene—
their ravaged, cancer-eaten, over-stressed organs
recalled in official diagnoses,
each dry account closing
while the next was ratcheted into place,
dad pressing the remote control
as if it were the release button on a bomb sight.
To counterbalance, we kids attend less
to people than to things: the Coleman cooler
intact after twenty-seven years;
the spangled (barely) red felt stockings
in which we still stuff memory cards and batteries;
the untouched Hai Karate cologne; the flight jacket
Mom’s tried for fifty-five years to toss.
It’s funny, self-deprecatory, even vaguely reassuring
until we get to the chilling reverse family portrait
in which we sat on the same couch
we’re now watching from,
looking forward to ourselves, some new upholstery,
and a smaller dog at our feet. There’s just
enough time for a last inside joke, for recognizing
the hard candy in its dish, pretending to spit out
the piece now diminishing in my mouth,
before the tone is torqued flush with our mortality.
Those endless summers weren’t. Without dad,
we can barely manage to find the same room,
let alone the Black Hills or Mt. Rushmore.
There are people in these slides even mother
can’t remember, overtaken as she is
by the ghosts of her dead.
Yet we press onward into one last box,
burdened now by our own youthful faces
and the betrayal of those bodies,
vigorous and unblemished as they are,
there in the silence of celluloid,
ready for anything, except, that is, this.
Mark Cox teaches in the Department of Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington and in the Vermont College MFA Program. Recent work has appeared in Brevity, 32 Poems, and The Colorado Review. He has authored six volumes of poetry, most recently Readiness: Prose Poems (2018) and Sorrow Bread: Poems 1984-2015.
Originally appeared in NOR 14.