Death By Water

Aunt Helen said
I told him not to
he never
paid attention
he never
and wringing her hands
wringing her hands

I have a picture of him
little boy
dressed just right
for February little woolen leggings
warm wool jacket
and the close little cap with
narrow baby visor
chin strap

floating under the ice
cartwheeling off
underwater rocks
on drowned
tree stumps
now and then on
sunken bicycles truck bodies
drowned in February
found in April

The mittens would
have come off
because his
fingers and face
they say
were pitted with
bites when they
found him

food for fish

and dressed, you
know, much
too warm for

So I came early
to my knowledge of death
I will die
in the water
I have always said
It is like a memory
The water poured in
a little gurgling stream
from a pint-size glass
mason jar carefully tilted 
Can I carry the daffodils grandma
No you’re too little you’ll
three is too little
drop them here carry
the water we can always
get more water     The

          little stream
little jar
little girl
little grave

water poured from the jar
into the ground and
Richard is under there!—her
life poured with it
all underground now 

Mama, why are Richard’s legs
so fat?  Hush, hush.  Don’t
speak...  Don’t ever speak
of this.  Aunt Helen falls
faints they say.        Each

daffodil brings it back
all life reeks of death and Christ
nibbled by fishes mended by wax
he lies in his little white coffin

lies in the earth and
the earth covers him
and daffodils growing up have his
face and
is Richard and this
over here is me and we
two are together now in

melted synapses: a memory sharp
as a serpent’s tooth, near as breath
We greet death as the priest who will
marry us
            earth to earth
            bone to bone
            flower to flower

—Marie Sheppard Williams, Minneapolis, MN