I close my eyes and recall
that we found a dead field mouse
lying In the fountain grass
by the railroad tracks where we often walked.
She bent forward to retrieve it,
and I told her not to pick it up.
“But Mom, he needs a funeral.”
I stopped her hand,
pulled a used tissue
from my hip pocket,
and wrapped it around
the mouse’s body.
Its hair was half gone.
“Where should we bury him, sweetheart?”
She cocked her head, considering.
“I don’t think we should put him
under the dirt. I think
he should have a funeral like Daddy’s.”
We made a little fire in the back yard.
The field mouse, resting on some cotton balls
in an old Thom McCann shoebox,
was placed on a firepit pyre with great reverence
by my six-year-old.
Her beautiful hair –
the hair I once wove ribbons into –
was falling out in clumps.
Chemo ravaged her from the inside,
making itself known on her outside.
My eyes burned.
“Are you crying, Mom?”
“It’s just the smoke from the fire.”
We watched the orange flames
consume the box, the cotton, the mouse.
She stood silent for a long time,
Then turned to face me.
“Don’t put me under the dirt, Mom.
Let me have a funeral like Daddy’s.”
She hugged me around the legs
not letting go for a long time.
Neither did I loosen my grip on her.
Now, her head rests on cotton –
a bleach-bright pillowcase stamped
with this hospital’s name.
Her eyes are closed,
But a smile slips her lips…
I’m sure she’s walking through
the fountain grass by the railroad tracks.
This time, she must walk alone.
Where she goes, I cannot travel.
At least not now.
And as I contemplate whether it would be
better to drink the desperate poison
or humbly fall on my knees,
she breathes her last.
The smile is still in place.
A glow surrounds her.
Even now, she is
love not bound
by the finality of death.
I make my decision
and bend the knee.
I am on holy ground.