by Maxine Kumin

The dozen ways they did it --

off a bridge, the back of a boat,

pills, head in the oven, or

wrapped in her mother's old mink coat

in the garage, a brick on the accelerator,

the Cougar's motor thrumming

while she crossed over.

What they left behind --

the outline of a stalled novel, diaries,

their best poems, the note that ends

offspring of various ages, spouses

who cared and weep and yet

admit relief now that it's over.

How they fester, the old details

held to the light like a stained-glass icon

-- the shotgun in the mouth, the string

from toe to trigger; the tongue

a blue plum forced between his lips

when he hanged himself in her closet --

for us it is never over

who raced to the scene, cut the noose,

pulled the bathtub plug on pink water,

broke windows, turned off the gas,

rode in the ambulance, only minutes later

to take the body blow of bad news.

We are trapped in the plot, every one.

Left behind, there is no oblivion.

Maxine Kumin received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1973 and the Ruth Lilly poetry prize last year. Her most recent book is (2000).

All material copyright © 2000 . All rights reserved.