When you died,
mom insisted we remove
every photo from the walls.
Not just the ones with you in them,
but also of me and my children.
And your children.
Next, she invited friends
to take your belongings:
a new set of dishes, your perfume,
a book you inscribed in high school,
the little “a” at the end of “Julia,”
tender and intact.
Ancient Egyptians believed
that to cross over into the Land of Two Fields,
your heart must be light as a feather,
and your name cast onto stone,
for this means you are loved.
I practice writing your name,
leaving it anywhere
that feels permanent.
I press your handwriting
into papyrus wings.
Mom motions toward me
with outstretched hands,
offering up a handful of your jewelry
as if to say, take these
before they break
or are stolen from us.
Hold them in your hands.
Pretend that something,
other than her absence
Previously published in Dying Dahlia Review
Sister, yesterday I spoke to the ER nurse
about the day your son died. I asked her the question
I’d wanted to ask for years: if we’d reached him sooner,
gotten him to the hospital faster, would he have survived?
She hesitated, said it’s unlikely. And if he had lived
he would not have been the boy we knew,
the boy who one winter, built a snow fort for his sister’s Barbies,
refused to throw water balloons to avoid hurting anyone,
swallowed his own suffering so no one would worry.
If he had made it, he would have needed around-the-clock care,
brain quiet even as his heart continued beating.
The nurse asked, would you consider that a life?
Sister, remember how on the day he was born
his Mars-red body cooled to pink in my arms?
His veins like a network of questions connected,
leading somewhere I could not see.
In the parking lot at work today, the trees are solemn
and unmoving, as though even the wind decided
to take a bereavement day. Sparrows burst across the sky,
chase each other in their ancient choreography of joy,
their wingspan broadening his absence.
Sister, at school today, the science teacher
writes questions on giant post-it notes around
the classroom and the students take turns answering.
Questions like what is a rainbow? What is gravity?
In response to what is a cobweb?
one student writes: a mysterious string of silk,
complex, strange and beautiful, so easily torn.
Ten hours after he died I stood
at the copy machine with the other teachers,
photocopying readings for my substitute.
I hadn’t told anyone yet.
As I held the book down against the glass
to scan it, a green laser lit up the room.
My hand became an alien hand,
the air, some exotic, other-worldly vapor.
But then the math teacher snapped at me
for putting the wrong color paper in tray four,
and I was still human,
oxygen filling my lungs.
The Spanish teachers chatted in Spanish
as students jostled each other in the halls
or walked with their heads down.
The sun had not risen yet
on that first day without him in the world.
But it did. It has every day since.
Joan Kwon Glass' first full-length poetry collection, Night Swim, won the 2021 Diode Poetry Prize. She is the author of the chapbooks How to Make Pancakes for a Dead Boy (Harbor Editions, 2022) & If Rust Can Grow on the Moon (Milk & Cake Press, 2022). In 2021 she was a Runner-Up for the Sundress Publications Chapbook Contest, a finalist for the Harbor Review Editor’s Prize, the Subnivean Award & the Lumiere Review Writing Contest. Joan is a graduate of Smith College & serves as Poet Laureate for the city of Milford, CT & as Poetry Co-Editor for West Trestle Review. She has spent the past 20 years as an educator in the Connecticut public schools. Her poems have recently been published or are forthcoming in Diode, The Rupture, Nelle, Rattle, Pirene’s Fountain, SWWIM, Dialogist, South Florida Poetry Journal, Honey Literary, Mom Egg, Rust & Moth, Lantern Review & many others. Joan has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net. She tweets @joanpglass & you may read her previously published work at www.joankwonglass.com