On the last morning of the summer, a little
family comes over the dune, across
the pond, and lays out their cloth, and their nutmeat
basket, the sweets and freshes cached in its
worried-forehead lattice-shell.
A quiet family, one mother one father one
toddler, around them the breath of the earth,
the surf, the massed crickets, the zinging
of matter coming through its narrow flute hole
in out of nothing, the soft swimming
of the air around them, the creaking harness of the
mute swan’s shoulder,
music of the holy family on the beach,
rhythms of distant speech when words are
rough-bouquet’d by gusts.  Behind
the back of my mind, for an instant, I wonder
if this is the little family my relative
killed, when he was drunk, with his car, but I know
that the dead, at the moment of death, do not go
somewhere else, as if on vacation,
showing up in bathing suits,
unwounded—no, the work was deeply
done, thorough.  The thought of the people
who loved those lost ones springs up in my mind like a
work party of love in a graveyard,
leaning over the holes in the ground,
maybe the small one in the middle as if to be
protected—but, the relative,
so many relatives in the human family
skilled in the irrevocable.  If you know someone
who was there, that hour, at the burial,
could you tell them—I don’t know what you could tell them.
Across the pond, the day’s neighbors
open the earthen doors of the hamper.
Salt for eggs, a cup of milk.
If they should lack for something!  If they would ask me!
Unless they have already asked me, and I did not know them.

The Unswept Room, Sharon Olds

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