Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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When the Time Comes
after Donald Justice

Every night, I trowel
a handful of soil
on the grave and still
it will not fill.

Tell me why
the texts on grief
suggest sequence
instead of repetition.

Close the casket,
drape the mirrors,
let the mourning song
cease. The clocks

already punished
into silence, the stilled
heart keeping
its peace.

Whoever washes the bodies
now shrouded, God
absolves of forty sins.
When the time comes,

we must not look,
we must not
look away.Grief
is no train we embark,

weary passengers,
conductors barking
all aboard or next stop.
Unless the train-cars

are shrouded in black,
edging forward along
wire-thin rails, an acrobat’s
balancing act.

Unless the train pass
is smudged or blank,
the return uncertain.
The shouted town names

familiar but indistinct, so distant
you can’t be sure whether
to disembark or not.
Unless your luggage shifts

each time in shape and size,
so that today you board
with ease and grace
but tomorrow you’ll stumble

up steps, bumping fellow travelers
on your aisle-long shuffle to stuff
your bag into a storage space.
Unless the signposts at each stop

form a Möbius strip. Unless
some days you lose your grip.
Unless scenery repeats and repeats
but with a boulder misplaced, a cairn

missing stones. Unless you travel alone.
Your effort to detrain seems
strangely routine, as you heave
your luggage once more from a bin, wondering

how—unassisted—you brought it aboard.
Unless you step from the train
again and again. Unless no one’s around
when the lock breaks

and you find, inside, rocks
that crack at the slightest touch
into impossible geometries.
Unless the ride goes on

and on until even the conductor
can no longer say which way
is north or south, west or east.  

From Bring Now the Angels by Dilruba Ahmed. Reprinted with permissions from University of Pittsburgh Press.

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