Carolyn Stice

It is called keening,
what women in India
do at funerals, that high
pitched, wordless sorrow.
I have seen it too, in Ireland
and the black churches
of my southern childhood.
It is devastating to watch
a strong-backed woman
collapse on her prostrate
lover, tearing at her body
and his as if to marry
the two. I think
of the tight, screwed
faces of my own family
last winter at my cousin’s
wake, their bodies bottled-
up, rigid, their hearts
more concerned with
propriety than grief.
I have always been
that way, too calm,
careful, emotionally flat.
But just now the thought
of you gone stings my eyes
and squeezes my throat
free of air. At the base
of my spine is a small
coal waiting to flame
on the winds of your
departure. It will lick
up my back and rib
cage, over my chest
and neck, burning
until I keen, my tongue
bloody with the wailing.