All was quiet consolation and hors d’oeuvres
—flattened quiche and flinty chocolate tart.
His mother dead made idle chatter sure,
So talk was small, dad practiced in that art.

He packed us in the car with little said
And not much more until he strained to say:
“Boys, you all were quiet, calm, and good.”
The way home was quiet too, our breathing sly.

Back home my dad was diplomat-severe.
Not stern but formal, silent, first-frost-still,
And I, for being wet behind the ears,
Found his smiles suspect, symmetric as a skull.

So soon I troubled out what was the matter:
And figured since his mother knew him first
In leaving us she’d shorted him a leader,
Since knowing first, to me, was knowing best.

By now I’ve learned the language of his grief,
The grace of its phrasings, its alphabet and arcs
Perfected by the dead that shade our every “if”
Because they were, should be, and almost are.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 3, on page 31
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