The wistful smile. Different than the Mona Lisa smile.
That one is more an “I’ve got a secret with your name
on it” smile. The smile I’m thinking of is more when
you’re looking through your childhood toys when you’re
50, or, like today, the clothes of a dead friend. Yesterday,
I was thinking that, yes, I’m sad that Bruce is dead, but
now as we have his old dogs, and one of them has decided
indoors is a much more comfortable place to do his
business (is that the best way to say it?), I’m really sad that
Bruce is dead. This is one of those smiles where we’re all
sure the person speaking, if the person speaking is a friend,
is making a joke, a “mortal vs the daily” joke, and it’s
something of a release for all of us, to laugh, to try out that
special smile, that smile we wear when we call the dead on
the phone by accident, wanting to ask them a question. I
did that once with Reginald, I forgot he was dead and
wanted to ask him a question. I wonder what Reginald
thinks of this? We set a place at the table for the dead.
When out shopping we find things the dead would like.
We mow their lawns and wonder what to do with their
social media accounts. I just heard myself say “social
media accounts” and suddenly felt old, hashtag Things
That Make Me Feel Old. No matter how young you are
the dead make you feel old. I’m looking at a picture
someone sent me, a picture of a male soldier in a zipper
dress. I’ve no idea what to call this dress. A cocktail dress,
maybe? He and his friend had this agreement, that if one
of them should die in Afghanistan, the other would wear
a bright green dress to the funeral. So here he is in this
lime-green number, looking old, drawn. Stretched, maybe.
Our mutual friend has died and there’s a next day for the
rest of us. And so, in this other way, the dead make us
look young, no matter who we are, as we don’t know what
to do with the flowers and the leftovers from the luncheon.
The weather comes up. And we had this little Keystone
Cop moment figuring what to do with ourselves around
the casket. Or “Who’s On First.” We didn’t even get to
carry it, you know? The whole thing’s on wheels now.
John Gallaher is the author of five books of poetry, including Your Father on the Train of Ghosts (with G.C. Waldrep, 2011), and In a Landscape (2014), as well as two chapbooks, and two edited collections, The Monkey and the Wrench (with Mary Biddinger) and Time Is a Toy: the Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt (with Laura Boss). His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Poetry, Boston Review, Chicago Review, and elsewhere.