By Kevin Boyle

As retirement began in May, I placed my little reminders 
around the house, “Every third thought shall be my grave,”
and for the first week I was dutiful, losing track of 

my lists of groceries or my dog’s empty bowl, thinking
of my grave easily a third of the time, keeping a running tab
of each idea on my phone, sometimes unsure of when

a thought might end and another begin, was the Carolina
wren’s call only one thought, and the white-throated sparrow’s another,
if so, then as I dug my garden with my rototiller 

that hurt my bones, I would certainly consider my grave
just then, the rectangle clearly a visual reminder and the soil,
only the treated lumber borders threw me off, so I thought of the pecans

so late to arrive in leaf, would they produce this year
those beautiful kernels, and then by early June I bumped it up
to every fifth thought, which allowed me to prepare to collect

on my investments, thinking it through without giving way
to tears, thinking of the garlic bulbs I planted, the scapes—
those green leaves—I ate in a frittata with salmon, line-caught,

very pure, innocent, and by the time the zinnias arrived
in July, the shortest in the front, the largest in the back
like a choral group arranged by range, I said, Damn it,

I shan’t be buried at all, I’ll amend my dying will to request
a cremation “ceremony,” and I went around the house
like in mid-January taking down every Christmas detail

including the manger with the unmoving donkey and lamb
who I might try to outstare, but now I searched for my grave
mnemonics, my construction paper cutouts, my calligraphy

that was poor penmanship, my silly arithmetic reminders
of death, and I could go eight, on a weekend, maybe ten thoughts
without a single visual of my body gone, my mind that knew

a thing or two just emptied like a bin or the compost jar
that I sometimes just toss right into the ground, not caring about
time, until the zinnias called it quits in early November, 

the grass stopped growing and gave some color away to charity,
and the birds, the birds felt something coming and shipped out
sometimes in great flocks of chattering that were frightening,

or sometimes, just a single bird that flew south, though
I knew and called out to it, Actually, you’re heading north,
I yelled at it, and still it sailed on, maybe a breeze was showing it

the quickest way to leave, or just the least painful, 
until its speck must have entered a cloud.

Kevin Boyle’s poems have appeared in NorthAmericanReview, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Boyle, who lives in Burlington, North Carolina, is the author of two books—Astir, which was a finalist for the Brockman-Campbell Prize, and A Home for Wayward Girls, which won the New Issues Poetry Prize.

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