At the Columbarium

By Jackie Craven

Featured Art: Edge of the Woods Near L’Hermitage, Pontoise by Camille Pissarro

“We’d invite you in,” my mother said, “but where
would we put you?” I must have seemed enormous
squatting before her door, third drawer from center.

If not for the marble nameplate, I might’ve seen
a diorama of Jacobean chairs, tiny forks and spoons,
and my stepfather’s bonsai.

“There’s barely enough room for the two of us,”
my mother went on. Deep inside the granite walls,
my stepfather growled, “I blame the Realtor.”

Dogwoods fluttered, casting stained blossoms
into the fountain. Down the hill, a procession of bagpipes
let out a skirl. “She promised us a view,” my mother shrilled.

I think my parents imagined themselves still
at the retirement home, rolling along a tulip-edged path
from the Independent Wing, past Assisted Living,

over to Memory Care, where the Admissions Lady
touched my arm and whispered, “Don’t worry.
We’ll help them downsize.”

I wanted to tell my parents: There are no Realtors
at Arlington Cemetery, not with all the iron gates
and white-gloved guards holding bayonets.

A tall blue lieutenant, stiff as tin, watched me now.
Beneath his withering gaze, I felt myself become a trinket
in a cereal box, a biscuit crumb, a cool, floating ash—

small enough to slip through a marble seam. “Wipe your feet,”
my mother called. Above the drone of bagpipes,
her vacuum began to hum.

Jackie Craven has poems in AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, River Styx, Spillway, and other journals and anthologies. She’s the author of Secret Formulas & Techniques of the Masters (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2018) and a chapbook, Our Lives Became Unmanageable (Omnidawn, 2016), winner of the Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Award

Originally published in NOR 18: Fall 2015

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