Having it Out with Grief
after Jane Kenyon
Julia C. Alter
Neighbors

I invite you in. I let you
borrow a cup of sugar.
It’s like I always knew you.

Fresh Flowers

Even when he could barely walk anymore, his young body
crumbling, he would swallow a fist of pills to propel him,
cane in hand, to the market to buy a bouquet. Flowering
in his gut: Dilaudid, Percocet, Vicodin, Oxy-this, Oxy-that.
Cruel unfolding blooms, and no one tending the garden.

One Day She Decided to Forgive Herself

The artist’s words splayed across the painting I bought
with him in P-Town, after balling out on a seafood lunch:
crab cakes, calamari, chardonnay. I didn’t know then
why it spoke to me. A woman with wild hair in a purple dress,
raising her arms to a starry sky. Now I see it every morning
in my kitchen, eating oatmeal, trying to remember what it felt like
to hug him. You were already there, seven steps ahead of me.

Accidental Overdose

There was no note, and he had just bought a ticket
to visit his niece. The last picture he sent me
she was wearing a pink shirt that said:
I Love My Gay Uncles

Circles

You are the snake eating its own tail,
the psychotic bear lumbering
around and around with a crown
of flies. You are a snail’s shell, spiraling
into yourself, out again. You are a spider
bite, leaving red rings on the skin,
glowing white hot at the apex.

His Mother Greets Me at His Funeral

You lost weight.
You’re so skinny!
He loved you like a sister.
You’re sooooo skinny.
How did you lose all that weight?
I almost didn’t recognize you.
The loss is unbelievable.

Water

Some mornings you’re a mist.
Some mornings you’re a river.
In the south, a flood. Black bodies
scattering from their homes like ants.

Binge-Watching

He’d stay up all night smoking weed, eating pills and drinking
Diet Crystal Light with vodka, disappearing into The Bachelor
and The Biggest Loser, his 19-year-old boyfriend leaving him
as he got sicker, his belly distended, the muscles in his calves
atrophied, legs like skinny pale fish.

Freestyling

He was a master. Speeding down I-89
like I’m invincible, I stumble through
rapping along to one of his favorite songs.

Makin’ the tears rain down like a monsoon
  Listen to the bass go boom

I have no clue what I’m doing. I am an amateur.

Vermont

At the women’s full moon circle, I put my hands
on my womb as directed. We are told to imagine a bowl
of light. Instead I find a bowl of you. No matter what I do,
I cannot lick it clean. I go home and pour red wine on a pile
of wildflowers, on ash, I put my face in the grass.
Nothing brings him back.

The Last Text

He wrote, can you call me?
but I was busy.
  
Julia C. Alter hails from Philadelphia and has found home in the woods of Vermont. She is a social worker, birth doula, and conscious dance facilitator, among other things. Her poems can be found in, or are forthcoming from, Wag's Revue, Rose Red Review, Clementine Unbound, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry.