What Remains

(Jack Stephen Bailey 1944-2014)


We crossed the plains
In a brown station wagon
Imitation wood paneling on the sides
And vinyl seats that stuck
To our legs in the summer heat
To see the Restoration, the Revolution
And the Civil War in countless
Museums and monuments
Disneyland and Yellowstone
The Oregon Coast, the Grand Canyon
We ate sugar cereal, a delicacy
We didn't get at home,
From paper cups in cheap motel rooms
We did yard work and went to the pool
We shot baskets on our sloped driveway
He coached my teams
Desperate for me to be good
We went to football games and church
He tried to hold on to everything
In his cameras and journals and
The overflowing shelves of his den
He painted watercolors and
Glued seashells to empty pop cans
He was funny, really funny,
And for a stretch of decades, he made
The sacrifices husbands and fathers make
He went to work and provided for us
And that's not nothing


Happy families are all alike
Tolstoy said, neglecting to mention that
Long after becoming uniquely unhappy
Some families maintain the illusion
For years, we tried to pretend
The fault line under our feet hadn't
Groaned and slipped and made a mess
Of our kitchen and living room
We tried to pretend
He hadn't become increasingly violent
Or succumbed to strange obsessions
Blowing thousands on baseball cards
The preferred investment vehicle
Of nine-year-olds everywhere
The divorce destroyed the illusion, but
It wasn't traumatic the way people thought
It was a relief
And of course, we mourn his death
We have mourned it
He gave us a long head start on that
He walked away and never showed us
Another ounce of kindness or concern
Never rewarded our lingering hope
For a simple "I'm sorry" or "I regret"
But he didn't leave us alone
His bizarre scenes ruined countless
Holidays, weddings, and funerals
The local cops knew him by name
And we came to an uneasy understanding
We learned and relearned the difference
Between forgiving and trusting


Death is not oblivion
We are more than just flesh
Consciousness, will, a spark, a breath
Our bodies are
Costumes cut from dust
In the image of our parents
Sublime and fragile
Breakable and beautiful
Things we wear and shed
Death is not the end of us
But it ends the time we have
To build up or tear down
To prove who we are
And what we love
To cooperate in our own creation
So let us look on what remains
Of our own lives with clear eyes
And resolve to remember
That we have so much:
Time, bodies, free will,
And most of all, each other