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The Mortal One

 Three months after he lies dead, that
long yellow narrow body,
not like Christ but like one of his saints,
the naked ones in the paintings whose bodies are
done in gilt, all knees and raw ribs,
the ones who died of nettles, bile, the
one who died roasted over a slow fire—
three months later I take the pot of
tulip bulbs out of the closet
and set it on the table and take off the foil hood.
The shoots stand up like young green pencils, and there in the room is the comfortable smell of rot, the bulb that did not make it, marked with ridges like an elephant's notched foot, I walk down the hall as if I were moving through the long stem of the tulip toward the closed sheath.
In the kitchen I throw a palmful of peppercorns into the saucepan as if I would grow a black tree from the soup, I throw out the rotten chicken part, glad again that we burned my father before one single bloom of mold could grow up out of him, maybe it had begun in his bowels but we burned his bowels the way you burn the long blue scarf of the dead, and all their clothing, cleansing with fire.
How fast time goes now that I'm happy, now that I know how to think of his dead body every day without shock, almost without grief, to take it into each part of the day the way a loom parts the vertical threads, half to the left half to the right like the Red Sea and you throw the shuttle through with the warp-thread attached to the feet, that small gold figure of my father— how often I saw him in paintings and did not know him, the tiny naked dead one in the corner, the mortal one.

Poem by Sharon Olds
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