Jan 26, 2010

Record Cold, 1962

Written by Brandon Courtney

Read by Nathan McClain

— for Ernie Mulford

I was told you were buried on the coldest day of the year.  The priest
        allowed the families to pull their cars to the casket
and watch through the windshield, watch as your brother broke
        his ankle punching the knife-edge blade of a shovel
into the hardened ground for your headstone.
        Someone suggested a pick axe, boiling water, 
a handful of salt to accelerate the thaw.

that the week before, you walked around the house,
        placing pennies and aspirin in your flower vases to keep them alive,
watching the pennies sink hard, the aspirin dissolve like paper umbrellas, 
        forgetting that hair is the first to go in sickness
that it comes apart in the teeth of a comb
        comes apart in the hands of others.

I was told that the nurse did her best with bandages,
        a sling made from old bed sheets cinched 
and tied to the meat of your shoulder,
        and how you were amazed that the recoil of a rifle
could be enough to break a jaw. 

My god, it must have been something to see — the children in the backseats
        heads bowed, asleep or praying, 
the priest stealing away to the columbarium —
        a respite from the wind, 
as your brother used his good ankle to kick a spade 
        into the frozen ground, shaving back strips of earth
like the peel of an orange until the stone stood upright. 

And how the rest of the family, hunched in the headlights       
        breathing small prayers, warm air into the palms
of their hands, offered what they could:  an ungloved hand to turn 
        the pages of the bible, another to strike the matches
and light the candles. I was told they returned to their cars,
        windows cracked, where they could draw enough breath 
to hear each other sing.