Four Poems from
With Nothing Behind but Sky
a journey through grief

by Perie Longo

Home Again Tonight 

Always I have tried to meet
your challenges, but tonight
with infusion lines in your arms
two capped nodules dangling
where the good blood goes
the chemo the antibiotics
I understand what I can
when you say I have no comfort
stroke your hand bruised
where blood has lost its way
place my hand on your heart
beating under the old blue and white
checkered pajamas and pat it
even though I want to remind you
of our children  the sea  the mountains
the octopus in Fiji you studied
under the end of the pier each dawn
loving the gentle way its arms coiled
and uncoiled as it fed
the curves of all those roads
we traveled on your Harley
how cold we were and comfort came—

when I place my ear on your heart, hoping,
I hear the sound of  hissing snakes,
how it races a little faster with mine—
life still with us tonight
which we can make last a very long time.


While Watching A Video of the Dalai Lama                                   

Everything I see or hear is about him
since he has been gone.
This morning, the Dalai Lama
says there is so much suffering
in the world he can't do much.

With his monks he sifts colored sand
into an intricate design for peace,
then sweeps it away. They collect
the remains in a small jar, sprinkle a little
on top of their heads for tranquility.

While I held my husband in my hands
as ash, like finest sand,
all the hard edges of us disappeared
with the smoke. I rubbed him on my skin

then flew him into light.

Such tragedy! how it takes death
to put everything in its right place,
how it takes death to perfect a life.


The Widow Attempts A Singles’ Group Potluck

Gender balanced. That was the big thing.
I had to bring a man, but wasn’t the point
there wasn’t one? An unattached man, no less.
I looked up, imagining him floating like a blimp
without wires. Would have to figure how
to get him down. Never mind her friend said.
I’ll bring an extra, like you would a spare key,
or stray sock. They trickled in under the shady grove,
women with casseroles to titillate the men—
men carrying mineral water, large loaves
of French bread sticking out of paper sacks
to tease the women—all the while
eyeing each other, like picking over fruit.
I should have left then. After eating,
the leader placed them in circles like little kids,
boys inside, girls outside, you know how it goes.
They had to answer questions to each other
to see if anything clicked between them.
Stupid questions like Why didn’t the man who
commissioned the Mona Lisa like the final product?
I felt myself smile oddly, turn to the man
before me and answer that he must have been a fool.
Aren’t we all, I thought, shifting
to the next position, and when the circle wobbled,
genders unbalanced as they were,
I slipped off between the trees which seemed
content to stand alone, though branches leaned.


With Nothing Behind but Sky

No wonder mountains draw us up,
ascending as they are with fault and fury,
a shaking at the core, one plate pushing
against the other. So every summer we’d come
from months of stumble, our eyes fastened on some peak,
and head off, up
breath deepening with each matched step.
We passed sky’s fortress of walls, knelt
to the surprise of columbine, and listened
to wind between thin green needles.
When trees gave way
there was only music of feet on rock.
At any given crest,  we’d huddle in triumph looking out
and down, something deep within released
from failings left behind. Boldly,
we’d sign our names in the book at the top.

When I hold a picture of us with nothing behind but sky
I remember your last breath,
how it exploded with such speed it must have reached
instantly the fist of the mountain
you lived beneath as a boy, this mountain
that almost took your life,
the one you often led us up, the one that drenched us,
blew us over, the one our son mounted
            to send you forth
and when he did a whirlwind bloomed from the ashes,
circled him with a roar and crescendo, then
disappeared. But we know where you are. We do.