Sarai Austin

In the year since Sarai died I have more than once thought about things I would tell her if I could. I had two lists, “Things I would tell you/her if I could,” and “Things I’ve learned since you/she died.” The lists overlapped, or got confused about their missions–is “it’s not as much fun coming home” something I’ve learned or just a fact I’d tell her if I could? And of course there’s the “if I could”: I can’t. Anything I write, if it’s not just for me (and if you’re reading this you know which way I went), is bound to be opaque, my only real audience dead, her ashes deaf dumb and blind in a box downstairs.

She sometimes said she hated irrelevant trivia I’d bring up. I tried, but I guess I couldn’t be stopped. I can’t be stopped now. So here I am, another pass, in a kind of Ted Hughes-like Birthday Letter, though on the anniversary of the other end of her life (birth and death days, less than a month apart).


Things I would tell you if I could, other, of course, than wish you were here

laundry is never done
I’m no longer surprised when a friend goes down
I’ve learned to make kitchari
it’s not as much fun coming home
the little ways I’ve changed the house disturb me
I talk to myself when I’m alone
there’s still no place I’d rather be

the drought is over
the lake is full
the flag on the “island”
is the Bear Flag now
that Trump was elected
which you didn’t know

if nothing else keep the toilets clean
you feared I’d make a mess of things
that dust would settle everywhere
and cats would run free

Draper and Damon closed
the Radio Shack on the corner closed
the Yardage Town is on final sale
reducing inventory so the owners can retire
no more Passage to India
or Souplantation Sunday brunch
Simple TV went out of business
and with our lifetime subscription
went your Miranda videos
you exercised with
in the bedroom
as many days as you could manage
the bedroom you died in
a year ago today

I can’t disappoint you any more
or try to learn to make you happy
I can’t live our life alone
and freedom just feels shitty
time’s healing power is overrated
time makes nothing easier
time doesn’t heal

wish you were here

A bit earlier today I wrote: “52 weeks ago she had almost an hour left to live; a year ago, a day. It’s how the calendar works, and our trip around the sun,” a little fancy with the unimaginable. Much is still in place, her glasses on her bedside table, purses and belts on their hooks in the closet. I’ll try to make this not too sentimental. One of us goes on, the other doesn’t, nothing else has happened really. I still live in the house. After a while–too soon–I went back to work. Life, and death, continue.

Every relationship begins by accident, even if you meet in kindergarten. You get hired to tutor, you offer a ride home from a party and stick around to walk the dog, there’s a swinging door between your offices, or you meet in the parking lot of a grocery store, you make a date, specificity takes over, and twenty-seven years later, while you’re watching television, one of you dies. That’s how things go. Everything about this is unremarkable to one not living it. Most of the time we loved each other; the details were our life.

The year’s been long and, a cliché, not so long. I’ve moved things around a little, though it makes me feel funny to do so. There’s a bigger TV in the bedroom, one I can see. There’s still no meat in the house. Her studio is mostly as she left it. I have no religion, I know I’m not being watched whatever I do, I know I won’t see her again. I cry a bit. For a while I couldn’t do much of anything. I read her poems–there are a lot of them, unseen, mostly, by anyone but herself while she was alive. It’s conventional to say she lives on in her work. It’s not true, really, but reading I remember, and in some sad ways know more about her than I did before. (There are more poems now on, where I’m trying now to be less haphazard and more chronological.)

Grief empties you,
your flesh scarcely
As though you’ve
lost weight,
pound per pound
to whatever
the loss.
A frail aging
parent, you lose
half of yourself,
a lover
yourself plus half.

Sarai Austin

Time to get serious.