After Loss

by Devin Kelly

after Jason Bredle

It follows the first inhalation you need to muster
in order to live in the moments after. It follows
the wind that moves through the open space
of your room & how that same wind funnelled
through the cavities of streets & underneath
the long bridge over the Chesapeake where you,
years ago, sat in the passenger seat, too scared
to look for fear of falling. It follows the chicken
grease greased to your hands when all you wanted
was a four piece tenders with an extra side of fries
& a large Diet Coke — no ice —that you could cut
with whiskey from around the corner. It follows
indigestion. It follows a heavy hand of Tums.
It follows sitting with it & becoming one with
asking why & knowing there is no answer. It follows
a sky puncture-wounded by each body falling through it.
It follows possibility. It follows a dream you once had
where you’re standing in front of a crowd, about
to give a lecture on the inability of anything to fully
articulate how you feel about anything, & your father’s
hand breaches through the weary, near-asleep huddle
of bodies & opens its palm to say it’s alright, you don’t
have to be right about everything. It follows the small globe
inside his hand with a small town inside it where a small
river cuts through that & where all the small people are
the opposite of drowning. They are each the size of a blue
jay’s eyelash but it follows that you know they are happy,
& beautiful. They look up at you, cup their tiny hands
to their tiny mouths, & try to tell you how warm they feel
in your palm, & how loved. But it follows, you know,
how you can’t hear them at all. & so put them down.
& say goodbye to your father. & wake up. It follows how
you always wanted to try &, having tried, try again.
& it follows failure. It follows how most failure
occurs alone, in a room of one’s keeping, where
no one bears witness to tragedy other than you.
It follows your hand placed above the lighter’s flame,
imagining your body as the dry crackle of a book,
how you think fire, or pain, will change you — the way,
electric, cause unknown, it changes a wood-paneled
motel off the side of a highway to a pile of ash
that two old lovers try to find, elderly & reckless,
hoping the sight of the walls & whatever memory
molds from them will undo the undoing that life
so often does, & how the breeze from their car’s
wheels wheeling 80 on the blacktop kicks the ash into the air
like a star exploding back into the nothing of night
& how one turns & says you know, I thought, it was,
you know, it had to be, it had to be here. & how it’s not.
& how the fire you hold doesn’t do this at all. It only
disappears. It follows the way you look up, hoping someone
is watching, &, seeing nothing, pause before looking
up again. It follows what must be the growing-
steadier reminders of beauty: the shadow’s bold
hypotenuse between two windows of the old schoolhouse
on Amsterdam, the cloud slowly jogging above
the river & how it looks like a turtle swimming
through the wide ocean of its life, the distant jingle
of the Mister Softee truck &, if you listen close enough,
the faint flicker of a child’s eyes parting wide at the impossible
sweetness of the cone placed before them as if it were
a pendant, a missing link, a key to a door to the other
side of joy which opens to a balcony which looks out
on a river which flows to a place of even deeper joy
where everyone walks alongside the mossy bank’s
twilit path & speaks openly about such joy, & how
they have it, & sorrow, & what has caused it, & love,
& how it’s hard. & then go to bed together
with the tenderness that only comes from tears,
or circling a baby’s finger tightly with your hand,
or holding the ice cream in your mouth just as you kiss
someone you haven’t kissed that way in years.
It follows a phone number you attempt to dial
but never finish dialing. It follows a venn diagram
you draw of everyone you’ve ever loved, everyone
you’ve ever lived for, & everyone you’ve ever lost
& the way each circle is positioned perfectly on top
of the others. Fuck. It follows you walking back out
into the day. It follows the way every tree is a cello
& every breeze is the long bow of an orchestra sighing
through the strings. It follows the sound of your voice
saying to no one: what carries on, carries on.
It follows the turtle to the furthest shore. It follows
you looking far into the blue above, trying to find the next
one. It follows you jumping up into the sky, where
everything is the opposite of drowning, & how you have
no words for this, & how there were forever none at all.

Devin Kelly is the author of In This Quiet Church of Night, I Say Amen (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and the co-host of the Dead Rabbits Reading Series. He is the winner of a Best of the Net Prize, and his writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Guardian, LitHub, Longreads, Catapult, DIAGRAM, Redivider, and more. He lives and teaches high school in New York City.

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