Cousins by Linda Pastan


by Linda Pastan

We meet at funerals

every few years—another star

in the constellation of our family

put out—and even in that failing

light, we look completely

different, completely the same.

“What are you doing now?”

we ask each other, “How

have you been?”  At these times

the past is more palpable

than our children waiting

at home or the wives and husbands tugging

at our sleeves.  “Remember . . . ?”
we ask, “Remember the time . . . ?
And laughter is as painful

as if our ribs had secret

cracks in them.

Our childhoods remain

only in the sharp bones

of our noses, the shape

of our eyes, the way our genes call out

to each other in the high-pitched notes

that only kin can hear.

How much of memory

is imagination?  And if loss

is an absence, why does it grow

so heavy?  These are the questions

we mean when we ask: “Where

are you living now?” or

“How old is your youngest?

Sometimes I feel the grief

of these occasions swell

in me until I become

an instrument in which language rises

like music.  But all

that the others can hear

is my strangled voice calling

“Goodbye . . .” calling

“Keep in touch . . .”

with the kind of sound

a bagpipe makes, its bellow heaving

and even its marching music funereal.

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