What I Wanted to Say

I woke at six.  Birds cried from the roofs.
No sun yet, a bleak sky and clouds,
the first cars taking men to work.  I slept
downstairs on the couch, half the night
I saw your emptied face, your weak shiny hands
that had lost their warmth after the heart attack.
Like water.  You could barely talk.  I thought
about what we say to each other even now,
and about the white fires of the crematory
furnace that made you ashes.
All this came up as easily as the wind
shakes the leaves on one of the trees outside my house
then stops, and the leaves hang there, so quiet
you believe something miraculous will happen.
The streetlamps glow with a sudden brightness,
you feel satisfied with the cracked chimneys,
the dull orange haze blowing across the stars,
you could sit endlessly on the steps, smoking,
doing nothing, and never speak again.
But this isn’t what I wanted to say.
The birds were calling me, I think.  Or someone.
There were tears.  I stumbled.  My jaws ached.
I bent over my sleeping children to say goodbye
and each one turned to me and smiled.  But this
came back —your dead face was a blank white
flower opening in me, which I couldn’t touch.
I stood somewhere, saying, “Nobody can say this.”

From “GRIEF”  by Stephen Berg.
Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC. 
Copyright © 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 by Stephen Berg.