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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dead Young

I am struggling right now with the death of my nephew. He was my first nephew; born when I was 10 years old. I was the youngest in my family, so when he was born it was my first chance to have a baby to love.  Derek grew up some; he was 31.

I feel the distance between my family and myself more sharply than usual. I am so glad they are together right now, but I miss them. I miss Derek. Selfishly, and without reason - I miss him.

I don't have any art about this yet. There are no words.  Derek was a bright spark... He was complicated- and beautiful.

Derek and I when we were younger...

Two years ago our neighbor died. My husband has a knack for befriending. He and Bill became close over the last year or two Bill was alive. Bill, like all of us, was lovable but not easy to love.

My Neighbor

He liked to flirt with me…
I’d rather give this cabinet to you than sell
Bill, with Joe and Georgia before our trip
it to a bunch of Mexicans. he’d say, My neighbor, he’s  a faggot,
but a helluva nice guy. Good

Bill had both hands gripped tight
to the wheel of the ‘89 Corvette
that he waxed two weeks
before. Thin, caved in chest –
out there in shorts, arms
moving in circles – making
her shine.

Sitting in his camp chair-
watching birds eat crumbs, sores
seeping – eyes and nose running. Slowly
smoking that Winston – bitter ash. Ruminating,
family won’t return his calls. Brother
won’t start his Corvette. He worries
about the battery.

His mom, Georgia, keeps him with her. She buys
him his favorite foods
He scared her when he was young.
Smoked pot and drank. Sold drugs –
one time she found a big black garbage bag
full of weed and –good Texas mama that she is-
threw it out. When he got home he came at her
like he was going to hit her
before running out the door. He didn’t
come back - except for his first wedding-
until Diabetes lost him his job
at the casino.

When Georgia shows me the picture
of the wedding she wonders why he kept
the framed photo of him looking 70’s
handsome with Georgia’s second husband
who he hated standing a little too close
behind him like he was holding a knife to his back.

Now he is kept…. by her. Out of love – but he
is 46- and living at home.

How should we mourn
this man. He walked
without a cane on brittle
legs falling over and again
he couldn’t allow the help he needed,
until gracefully and
without warning he would accept Joe’s arm
as he walked up the steep driveway.

Joe and I sitting next to him in his garage
watching the slow drift
as he falls asleep sitting up with the cigarette
and coffee still in his hand. At the last possible moment
Joe reaches out and touches his chest to keep him
from falling over. you’re so good to me Bill said smiling-

Joe visits him nearly every day,
on good days they talk cars, bikes, music. Joe
knows that Bill needs to be what he always
has been,
A man- a cussing spitting fast-car driving
hard-drinking man with time
to get soft and misty eyed

One morning, Bill is crying
and listening to the songs on the Sunday morning

Amazing Grace and a country
number about walking through a graveyard.
His crackling high
voice joining in, whispering then dropping away to nothing
while tears ran down his face
like he was a mourner
at his own Memorial. The one he forbids
us to have.

Now Joe and I sit vigil, in our garage
two doors down from Georgia’s. In folding
camp chairs, smoking cigarettes and trying
to dislodge our resentments, the ones
we haven’t managed to work into pearls yet.
Not wanting to end like Bill but also
wanting to snatch back for him what he couldn't get.

Two months later, Bill’s brother Bud rings
our doorbell. He has a gift bag in his hands. He says
It is from Bill. He bought it for you guys back when he
was watching your cats. Wow, I said
stupidly, It’s not every day you get presents from the dead.


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about your nephew. I'll be thinking of you. This poem about Bill is good, I like how you just lay it out, telling a story, or a few stories, just like people would at the memorial he didn't want.

  2. I am so very sorry to hear about the death of your beloved nephew, Sophie. This is a towering monument to his memory and I think it is one of the most touching, brutal and beautiful things I have ever read. Certainly, one of the most honest and writerly things I have shared. Were it not so inappropriate, I would say well done, Sophie. Mary