Valentine’s Day

The eve of Valentine’s Day he died,
Hours before the mad rush for roses began.
We learned of his death this morning—
Valentine’s Day—
When the belated e-mail arrived.

Red roses for beloveds,
Yellow for friends,
Lavender for mothers,
White for the departed.

I bought a red rose for my wife,
A burnt rose for my daughter,
A white rose for the little boy.

Years before I had inscribed him
A copy of Maggie Brown’s “Runaway Bunny”
And left it with his grandmother.
(The author, to demonstrate
Her robust surgical recovery,
Leapt out of bed,
Gave a Can-Can kick in the air,
Threw a pulmonary embolus
And promptly died in Nice.
No one expected her untimely death at forty-two;
We knew the boy was dying at nine.)

Our new puppy fetches
The old toy again and again;
Silently, we eat a hot meal
To ward off the wintry chill.
In fading sunlight
The white rose
Sheds its petals,
One by one.



Shattered leaves

The crickets continued to chirp late this year, well into the weeks when the leaves turned golden scarlet. The evening sun streamed through the yellow-orange leaves as they fell from the trees like shattered stained glass from ancient cathedral windows.

A huge icon of the Madonna and Christ child towered above the paneled altar, its entire background set in gold leaf. An arch depicting Christ and the Apostles at the Last Supper framed the dome above the open casket where the wooden remains of an adolescent girl rested. Just to the right of the casket another framed icon rested on an easel draped in crimson cloth. The people who filed in to pay their respects to the family focused on the framed icon, and some cast fleeting glances at the brown form before turning away.

We sat on the hard wooden pews and stood as the priest directed, following the lead of the family, front and center before the casket. The priest intoned the words in English; an elderly cantor echoed in Greek. At some point a censer was swung on either side and at the head and foot of the casket, and the odor of burning incense wafted back through the pews.

One of the cantors read a passage from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Thessalonians, then the priest read a selection from the Gospel according to Saint John.

Afterwards the priest brought out a small lectern and stood to deliver the eulogy. He spoke about the need to peel back our layers of pain to see the image of God in another person. He spoke of the need for heightened awareness: to be attentive to warning signs we might see in others to allow for timely interventions before it was too late.

Then he spoke about the artistic gift that the girl had had: the innate ability to capture light in color and line to create an image — an impression, an icon — the way the world looked to her. At the end I suppose she could no longer see the goodness of it, could no longer bear the pain of living in it; and the light inside went dark.

Again the words, again the prayerful chant. One by one we stood and filed forward one last time, then filtered out through the doorways into the morning brightness.

The golden leaves tumbling down from the blue-grey trees shattered in the brightness of the noonday sun.

Van Gogh_Wheatfield with Crows