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a poem by rowen aster

All five of us packed into the car on a September night

shoulder to shoulder, voices overlapping in anxious excitement.

We’ve agreed to stop at the cemetery on our way home,

and when we arrive it’s somehow the brightest place on earth.

Stumbling forward through sloping, dewy grass, we take turns holding

hands in the shadows, weaving through rows of shimmering monuments

glowing beneath the moonless sky.

We catch our breath between rotations of laughter that chase us

in our circular travels through time.

Taking turns we each choose a home, plotting our way into

the afterlife we search for behind oak trees, splitting branches.

Foggy headlights stutter through a smile of staggered graves

streams of starry spotlights spilling out of the gaps in the stone.

When the lights disappear everything fades into ashes, and I am afraid

of the ground I cannot see beneath my feet, afraid of being swallowed whole.

Falling back into the grass we summon our courage, point out shapes

we’ve made between a handful of stars, watch one fall towards our hearts

wishing for nothing else than to be in this moment.

Every dream sounds existential in the vastness of a night sky

impossible as my desire to be swept away, held in the arms

of a space so eternally safe.

Shuffling back the way we came, leaving as visitors,

we make believe we do not see the ghosts that smile from

the windows of mausoleums. We return to the world a group

of smiling awestruck heartaches. What grabs me is the bent, corroded edge

of the car door as it collides with my knee,

grips deep into my stinging leg, begging me to leap inside.

When I’m back in my seat, panting, shivering, my fingers reach

down to feel warm blood seeping into my sock below,

welted skin beneath my touch a memento of my time spent here.

She is shocked that I could bleed so easily, asks me three times

if I need a bandaid, if she can get me a bandaid, if I’ll allow her

to heal me. Every ask is a chance to accept this urgent caring

from strangers I’ve just met.

With the skylight rolled open we scream along to the radio

flying faster than we ever have in the middle of a dream.

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