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Patrick Lawler

 

Living on Burrowed Time

 

This morning I saw my dead father-in-law
driving a Pinto. The weird thing is that
it wasn’t his car. The dead obviously
don’t get to drive the current models.


I wanted to yell to him
about the gas tank exploding,
but then I remembered he was dead,
and warning him didn’t make a lot of sense.
Maybe all the dead drive Pintos
with bursting gas tanks, and they tipsily spin into turns
on erupting Firestone tires.
That’s got to be part of the fun of being dead.

Death has to take us seriously.
Eventually, we become this fear inside us.
We become our skin which is made of death.
We wear it around us, and our deaths protect us—
with their kindnesses—soft and pliable.

I had a dream once where my grandmother never died.
Everyone thought she was dead, but instead
she moved in with a distant aunt. To visit my grandmother
I had to drive through a quaint dream-size village.

In the dream, I was in my aunt’s living room
that looked as if it had been covered with a doily.
The aunt told me my grandmother
was convinced she could talk
to God, but she was determined not to.
In my dream, I expressed my admiration.
“Good for you,” I said, and my aunt said,

“Don’t bother. It’s not just God she doesn’t talk to.”

I’m sure you would agree:
death is the small end of the funnel.

Frequently when I wake up, it takes
a moment to figure out who is alive
and who is dead—who I can expect to bump into
and who I will need to get used to not seeing.

The most embarrassing thing
is to ask a person how so-and-so is
and then be told by their child or spouse or parent,
“You know. They died.” “I’m sorry,” I say.
“But you were at the funeral.”

I can’t help it.
Sometimes life and death blur together.

Once my dead father left me a message
on my answering machine.
I wasn’t convinced it was him
because he mumbled.
He seemed to be trying to sell me insurance.
For the first time in my life,
I thought I should be listening to him.

For the moment, at least, I do
all the things death cannot do.
I burrow into what I can burrow into.

Once my father opened an egg
and found his death inside it.
That was just before he got involved in selling insurance.
Of course, I know this poem will be used against me.
All my life I tried not to write it
though it has been waiting for me.
Like my own death, it leans in a doorway,
smoking a cigarette, as cool as James Dean
in a dangerous leather jacket, vulnerable and sexy,
speaking in the softest of burrowings.

I should have asked my father
about the premiums.
How much time I’d need to borrow.

It will be weird having you
read this after I am dead.

I guess we will just have to get used to it—
all these words detached from us.
All these words softly exploding.