By Joan Larkin
I’m older than my father when he turned
bright gold and left his body with its used-up liver
in the Faulkner Hospital, Jamaica Plain. I don’t
believe in the afterlife, don’t know where he is
now his flesh has finished rotting from his long
bones in the Jewish Cemetery—he could be the only
convert under those rows and rows of headstones.
Once, washing dishes in a narrow kitchen
I heard him whistling behind me. My nape froze.
Nothing like this has happened since. But this morning
we were on a plane to Virginia together. I was 17,
pregnant and scared. Abortion was waiting,
my aunt’s guest bed soaked with blood, my mother
screaming—and he was saying Kids get into trouble—
I’m getting it now: this was forgiveness.
I think if he’d lived he’d have changed and grown
but what would he have made of my flood of words
after he’d said in a low voice as the plane
descended to Richmond in clean daylight
and the stewardess walked between the rows
in her neat skirt and tucked-in blouse
Don’t ever tell this to anyone.
“Afterlife,” from My Body: New and Selected Poems, published by Hanging Loose Press, copyright © 2007 by Joan Larkin, appears here today with permission from the author.
Joan Larkin’s Legs Tipped with Small Claws, a twenty-poem chapbook, is just out from Argos Books in April 2012. My Body: New and Selected Poems (Hanging Loose Press, 2007), received the Publishing Triangle’s Audre Lorde Award. Her other books include Housework, A Long Sound, Sor Juana’s Love Poems (translated with Jaime Manrique), and Cold River, recipient of a Lambda Award. She edited the ground-breaking anthologies Amazon Poetry and Lesbian Poetry with Elly Bulkin and Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time with Carl Morse. Larkin received the 2011 Shelley Memorial Award as well as the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, awarded annually for distinguished poetic achievement by an American poet. She has taught poetry writing at Sarah Lawrence and Brooklyn College, among other places, and currently teaches in the Drew University MFA program in Poetry and Poetry in Translation.
Editor’s Note: With a few strokes of the pen, Joan Larkin gives us a world. She sketches for us a picture of her father—his religion, his death, and his philosophies on life, while effortlessly guiding us through the labyrinth of human relationship, painting for us a relationship between father and daughter throughout youth, life, and even after death. I am reminded of those artists who are able to paint masterpieces on the head of a pin. It takes a poet who is a master of her craft to convey such a story, riddled with so much emotion and conflict, and containing so many rich layers of life, death, and the spaces between, in the way Larkin does so breathtakingly in “Afterlife.”