If you were to peer into the mourner's skull

Circling the Center

by Tom Sleigh



If you were to peer into the mourner's skull

where all this feeling is electrical signals

firing, what you'd see are nerve fibers,

long strands of tissue that look like dead people's hair

braided into amulets, lockets

in barrows and old tombs: you'd see little

lightning storms of rising glare, you'd see

it all as pure physical phenomena—nerves lit

up on a screen in troughs, spikes,

no interpretation, no allegory,

no one listening to music

in a room the not-there listener sits

inside, no solitary midsummer afternoon

of watching rain slide down the non-existent pane.



He asks her to play Willie Nelson

singing Georgia, Georgia over and over.


He asks her to boost the morphine

that makes him crave the repetition.


He lies there watching the machine of his body

pivot toward calm, pivot back toward fear,


he feels the trees' shadows feeling it through,

Just an old sweet song, as he stares down at his body,


the mind that moves the trees all one way

moving among them the whole day through


making nonsense of Willie's words slowing

to a slur, then suddenly coming to,


I said Georgia, oh Georgia, no peace I find

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.



Why does he only come back to her in fragments,

a head floating above a not quite present

body, or just a close up of his hand?

Why does he keep vanishing into wave-bands


of electrons, staticky flashes

signalling to the brain only his nose,

his right eye, imposed one upon another

in scenes she can't contol, his face shoved in hers


now drifting high up in the clouds? The more

she tries to make him come back, the more

she has to endure him dissolving


into thin continuous dreaming

of the nothing he's becoming...

But even as that nothing, he's still hers.



He could see it coming from a long way off,

but no matter how far it was, even at the universe's


edge, he couldn't move fast enough to get away.

That's the real source of his sadness, knowing it was coming


all along, and yet he was unable to turn it

from its course, to keep it from burning


in the atmosphere to cinders, making him a tiny satellite

of the sun that is now his death. But she,


the one who calls him back, she isn't in orbit.

She sits at her table and weaves


what she can into coil on coil of uneasy narrative

that pushes him farther out into his orbit until


all she can see, all anyone can see, is the braid she makes

from strand on strand of his gradual unravelling. 


But why, finally, should it be this way?

Why should what she loves in memory

erase his hands and face to this baffled absence


trying to live, not here, not now,

but where the two of them once were?

Even now, in death, out of sight of the living,


he keeps changing into what his death

each moment of his absence demands of him.

No matter what she does, his death won't let him alone,


won't let him stay still, won't keep from unravelling

the braid of his hair, or the notes braiding

themselves into a song, just an old sweet song


in which The road leads back to you

and won't let him go where he's already gone.