THE SHOW MUST GO ON; ELEGY WITH BLACK SUIT; WADING
By: Mary Warren Foulk
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
I found this line
blurred on a faded post-it, thin as Julep
mint, between folds
of your wallet so broken
at the leather seams. A simple inheritance,
your lingering refrain.
The Show Must Go On,
a forgotten fragment
of weighted legacy.
This spring twilight, I have smelled the bourbon,
crafted by our Virginia gentleman, in cut glass
over ice crushed and enveloped by young mint.
Heard the echo of Mother’s fraught
urging, the generations’ monogram,
to “grasp the frosted pewter,”
you and I, both fallen branches
of the family tree, so bitter-
sweet the never quite fitting,
never quite able to play the part.
We found ourselves stateless and
preferring Pinot, and your murmur…
The Show Must Go On,
this remembering, a selection,
omission, loss of longed for details.
Drunken laughter at inherited dysfunctions,
those late Sunday afternoons at our East Village café.
Sweetest sibling language,
like two debutantes drinking wistfully,
cigarette smoke curling around resonant words,
now, a bourbon-less,
fatal consequence of a narrow closet.
What foretold your final curtain call?
How the streetlight framed your face,
your dimming stage lights,
one lasting reminder.
The Show Must Go On,
and bitter as mint.
ELEGY WITH BLACK SUIT
Time heals all wounds,
pronounced my great-aunt,
upon hearing the news.
A centenarian, she had lived
through all the Wars, even ones
of her own nursing home
imaginings. Each night,
she drank Sherry and ate two
chocolates, never married or
had children, slight explanation
for her fortitude. She told dirty jokes,
on repeat, rendering visitors more and
more crimson, and desperately seeking
an exit. Because of her, I thought
He’s in a better place.
Distant cousins and near
strangers shared similar thoughts
while eating egg salad on Melba toast
and musing about the gathered crowd:
which one was the lover, despotic boss,
flirty colleague. I was the shattered
sister. Recollections of his blue eyes,
kind lilt of his voice. Kiss kiss
hug hug thank you for the swollen tears
now imprinted on this size 6 black suit,
bought by my mother ten years ago
(just in case), too-tight in the waist and
hung in plastic at the back of the closet.
At least, he wasn’t alone.
I never imagined an occasion
such as this. He collapsed in my arms.
I held him as long as I could.
Just after, the sky in blue, I walked
stunning sunlit streets. The next day,
I took a train to comfort my parents.
On the ride, a man asked if he could sit
next to me. I cleared my seat
and nearly said aloud, “you are sitting
next to the girl whose brother just died.”
I wondered how many others among us,
passengers, like me.
Get over it. Move on.
There was a yesterday, and
there is a today, and
where is he? And where am I?
I kiss the box that holds
his ashes. His fading
laughter. The black suit,
ill-fitting and newly stained,
waits for me,
Wading in each other’s shadows, this night,
we endure. Murky air and bedroom fog,
the demon arguments have returned. Bills
past due, the day’s logistics, the loss of lust.
Not so subtle shifts in darkened, darkening
corners. Echo somber sheets, cold rustlings,
your muted breath. Despite feigned attempts
at sleep, there is no room for dreaming. Thread-
bare fantasies no longer guide. Will
you remember our first date? That cloudless
sky and urban meadow, a festival
of chanting monks in saffron bliss. Later,
the gentle wind sang carnal haiku. Five-
seven-five. We came so easily. The
slightest touch, a slow undoing.
Exhale the slow undoing, slightest touch.
Your lips on my breast, nipple in mouth.
We merge, again and again,
this twined mingling. Tracing
the cracks in our white mortar. Foundation
still holding, still holds. Our most gradual
gathering of grayed black and whites, book-lined
shelves, and torn calendars marking blue/pink birth,
unsettled death. Moonlit patterns etched
deeply across these bodies and walls. Breath, buoyed
by memory and callused fingertips,
ready the move from darkness.
Feel me, you,
wading in this night,
in our shadows.
We know our meaning.
Currently a student in the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Mary Warren Foulk lives in western Massachusetts with her wife and two children. She is an educator, writer, artist, and activist. Her work has appeared in VoiceCatcher, Four and Twenty, Hip Mama, Curve Magazine, and Who’s Your Mama? The Unsung Voices of Women and Mothers and is forthcoming in Yes Poetry, the Arlington Literary Journal (ArLiJo), (M)othering Anthology, and My Loves: A Digital Anthology of Queer Love Poems. She is thrilled and honored to be part of the November issue of Cathexis Northwest Press.
"Much like in the work of Marie Howe and Anne Carson (on whom I am writing my graduate critical thesis, specifically on their exploration of sibling loss), 'The Show Must Go On' began with a line or phrase associated with a loved one, my brother. Cleaning Stephen’s apartment after he died, I came upon a post-it, on which he had written these words. I keep it in my wallet, as tribute, as mantra. I then let varied associations emerge and connect. In writing this, I also thought of Diane Wakowski, her 'Oysters with Lemon in Montmartre;' specifically, Wakowksi’s ability to set and stay in a scene, and her exquisite imagery.
In Elegy With Black Suit, I play not only with the elegiac form, but also with the empty 'tropes' of grief and grieving, what T.J. Wray, in her book Surviving the Death of a Sibling (Three Rivers Press, 2003), refers to as 'dismissive condolences' (Wray xiv). These are those words or actions from family, friends, and acquaintances which, although well meaning, can diminish the loss, and often do more harm than good.
'Wading' began with a dare. I was taking writing classes at the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters in Portland, Oregon. David Biespiel, the director and my instructor at the time, challenged me to write a double sonnet, repeating the last line of the first sonnet, as the first line of the second. The poem reflects a difficult time in my relationship. My wife and I had just moved to Portland, having left NYC, and after 9/11. We had suffered through that devastation as well as other losses, including that of my brother. I believe I wrote this poem soon after our first marriage had been overturned by a ballot measure, which was heartbreaking (we had to get married three times and move to Massachusetts to be legal at last!). Truly, we felt like we were 'wading.'"