Chat with the dead husband

Jan Haag taught journalism, English and creative writing at Sacramento City College for more than three decades before her 2021 retirement. A former magazine editor, she is the author of Companion Spirit, a collection of poems about her husband’s death published by Amherst Writers & Artists Press. She leads in-person writing groups in Sacramento, as well as virtual ones, in which the topic of grief and loss often arises. Read more of her beautiful writing here.

Look, I say to him as I water the last
of the hollyhocks, small bursts
sprouting from the yellow-stick stalks

that all summer long sported baby pink
frilly numbers fluttering like tutus.
I hope you’re up there—wherever there is—

offering a metaphorical hand to the newbies
so startlingly blasted out of their bodies
into whatever comes next. So many recently:

Margaret and Stephen and Joan and Christie.
I can’t feature an actual heaven with a
receiving line of the just-died waiting to get in

since y’all pretty much left your bodies
behind for us, the living, to deal with.
Thanks, by the way, for that. You couldn’t

just ascend, a la That Guy, and take your
old bones with you? And I feel his chuckle
rumble through my chest, his murmur

a cresting wave in my ears. Everyone
is received, Toots. Not to worry.
I sigh. OK, but how? Received into what?

Not something I can describe, Toots,
he conveys in that way he does. I expel
another heavy breath. And what about

those who are so close but can’t seem
to lift out of their pain-filled bodies?
Can you help with that? I feel his smile

right behind my own. They’re being
helped, Toots. And before I question
that, he adds, I promise. And before I

protest that it sure doesn’t look that way,
he directs my gaze to the two-inch-tall,
magenta hollyhock blossom adjacent

to the dead stalk I trimmed but did not
remove, just to see what might happen.
Because you never know.

Yeah, yeah, I say. We’ve been having
this conversation for decades now.
Growth. Something’s still living there.

He starts to drift, as he does in dreams
set by a starry stream, where I often
find him, where we’ve been talking,

chuckling, remembering. My heart longs
to follow like one or more of our dogs
and cats who’re always with him now.

His warmth caresses my ribcage
before whooshing away, leaving
what he always leaves with me:

Love, Toots. It’s all love.

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