By: Gregory Djanikian
Death in his dark cowl is testing his scythe
against the roses in my garden named Hope-to-Be.
He says there is a mountain within you
that is shifting and the river is slick with feathers.
He says the way inward is always more frightening
than any simple migration.
Sometimes I don’t know what he means.
He is all nuance and innuendo.
Sometimes he grins, showing his lighter side
as if he’s told a once-in-a-lifetime joke.
Sometimes he makes a sad face, pursing his lips,
his fingers sliding down his cheeks like imaginary tears.
I’ve spotted him driving around the neighborhood
in his rattletrap with a cracked windshield
and a bumper sticker that says
My second car is always available!
I’ve seen him rummaging through garbage cans
picking out slices of pizza.
I’ve seen him dining at Chez Philippe
sipping mignonette sauce from an oyster shell.
When my father lay curled on his bed,
he was there, spooning him, his body being of two bodies.
Once, I found him lying by my mother, cooing,
until she woke and swatted him off with her cane.
He has too many handkerchiefs, waving
hello with one, goodbye with another,
tying a third on his car antenna like a white flag
as if he’s all diplomacy and talk.
He’ll come to you whenever it’s time,
asking you what you’ve stopped believing in,
the proof in the pudding, all the old saints,
every get-rich scheme and invitation,
and lay it all out on a platter, saying
Is this what you’ve always wanted?
holding your hands gently in his
as if he were wearing the softest kid gloves
and softness had finally found you,
what you’d never expected, or asked for,
but there it was,
like the song of a summer sparrow
echoing from the winter trees,
or the scent of gardenias wafting from a hillside
where no flowers had ever grown.
Gregory Djanikian has published seven collections of poems with Carnegie Mellon, the latest of which is Sojourners of the In-Between (2020). His poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies and have been fea- tured on PBS NewsHour. He was for many years the director of creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania and now lives with his wife, the painter Alysa Bennett, near Philadelphia.