You dream you’ve been assigned to care
for a pangolin: spiny anteater, artichoke
of gold with bright leaves for scales.
You love the way it spirals into
an artful coil at the bottom of your bed,
how it walks upright on its hind feet,
its pink and whip-like spaghetti noodle
of a tongue. But then its scales start to
fall away (one by one, one by one) before
it simply vanishes: going, going, gone.
Goodbye to the sense of self as scapegoat,
black sheep, troublemaker, and bad seed.
Goodbye to being the thorn that abrades the side,
a stinging burr embedded beneath the saddle.
Goodbye to being the one who never fails
to disappoint, the swallower of bile,
the expired ordnance, the detonation chamber.
When she no longer recognizes you, who
will you be? How will you recognize your-
self in the shattering mirror of her face?
Leaving Las Vegas, New Mexico, you
pass the bear sleeping on the highway—
a round, brown mound, cheek pressed to asphalt,
claw partially open, trucks whizzing by.
By the time you realize the bear isn’t sleeping
it’s disappeared in your rear-view—the ghost
malingering, hulking and gloomy, depressed by
the sequined mariachi in Pueblo, uncharmed by
the mountain in Alamosa that looks like a face:
upturned, smoking, French-inhaling clouds.
Why is it so hard to know when the last time is
the last time? Your beautiful tortoise-shell cat
who became depressed, starved herself to a skeleton
the summer you spent caring for your parents;
your father confessing he’d never forgive you
for not letting him drive after the stroke, after
the dementia, saying we don’t want to see you before
hanging up the phone; the bewildered ghosts
of people stacked in refrigerated trucks. Did any
of them know the last time was the last time?
A disconnected wind phone in a hilltop garden
overlooking the ocean in Otsuchi, Japan, where
tsunami survivors come to talk to their dead.
The rotary dial phone, cracked receiver mended
with masking tape, in your parents’ kitchen,
your father’s ashes resting in his chair at the table.
One year you were in love with fog, its chilled mists,
sinuous vapors, the delirium of both presence
and absence—how you kept obsessively searching
for signs, secret messages in your SPAM filter.