The day after the accident,
I volunteered to call the funeral parlor,
to arrange for you to see her body.
The mortician replied (never before or since
have I heard such stillness in a voice)
“That’s not a good idea.”
“Are you sure?” I asked,
“I think her parents really need to see her.”
He explained, “The damage to the body was extensive.”
“Oh.” I said. Then I had to ask,
“Can you tell me, did she suffer?”
He answered, “No, I don’t think so. It was very quick.
After impact, I doubt more than three seconds passed.”
“Ah…I see. But she is their only daughter,” I explained,
“just twenty-two years old. I think they are
going to insist on seeing her.”
There was a terrible pause. I heard his deep breath.
“Perhaps we can arrange something…
…But it would only be one hand.”
I had to tell you this. And when I did,
my tongue was like stone. I don’t even
remember doing it, or what I said.
You decided not to go. But after I left,
you changed your mind. You had to go.
I would have gone, too. I imagined you;
Entering a cold room, the white sheet, and
one still perfect pale hand laid out,
pearl-like in repose, a fallen blossom.
Bending close, holding her hand in yours,
kissing the soft whorls of her fingertips,
tracing the slim, finite map of her life-line.
Later, you told me it wasn’t like that.
You walked in, saw that sheet, and
hand. And knew.
You said to yourself, that’s not my daughter.
My daughter is not there. That awareness
made you laugh, a crazy laugh, and you didn’t
care if everyone looked at you as if you were
crazy. You were.
My eyes closed. I knew it was
true, for I saw her, flying high, above the cedars,
oaks, and madrones she called sisters, the river
she called mother, the wind she called lover.
And from there, on to the ocean she called
Goddess, with conch shells sounding,
whales echoing, sea-horse tails coiling,
all salt spray and glistening.
—Maggie McKaig, April 2, 2014