To the Unclaimed Bodies in NYC by Joyce Hayden

Straw Dog Writers member, Joyce Hayden, with Franklin County connections, recently completed her memoir The Out of Body Girl. Her work has been published in Maximum Middle Age, The Manifest Station and is forthcoming in Aljazeera English.

To the Unclaimed Bodies in NYC
April 2020

Here at the Tree Top Café you can still see
the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, blue
and grey. The oaks hold their leaves in fists.
Purple buds of the Judas Tree bleed against
the seafoam green of ash. The bearded iris
are about to open their eyes.

The ground softens a bit each day, but
you’ll know that better than I. I’ve seen
the bulldozers. The men stepping lightly
on your pine boxes. The contents, please
remember, are just bones, some hair.
Fingernails and a hospital gown.

Tonight the sun sets orange, the wind rattles
through beech branches, shaking the windows
in their chipped-paint frames. Three glasses of red
circle the table. A dog snores. Peanut sauce
simmers; bread rises in the oven. An axe crashes
through birch and pine out on the porch.

Where you are I imagine the sounds of the sea,
the empty call of night, wayward as a gull, a guttural
groan. When your ears perk and your name carries
over the island, it’s impossible to know what’s real,
to know what we’re meant for from what we desire.

I saw a deer once on the highway south of Scranton,
thought she was dead til her dancer’s neck extended,
twisted, writhed. Under broken skies, her bones weighted
to earth, her breath laddered the clouds we couldn’t count.
Paralysis and escape darted between tractor trailers and cars.

You’re somewhere like the doe: in a place we cannot gauge.
But I’ve seen snakes molt. Scientists call it ecdysis. I hope
you’ll call it ecstasy, that shedding, the leaving behind. We’re
all unclaimed anyway, aren’t we? In the end, it’s not something
others can offer. It’s a solo charge, a calling for the ghost.

We’ve all borne cement in our limbs, so if it’s the inmates
with masks and gloves that so disturb, recall that nothing
is more callous than iron bars, than a swallow in a hawk’s claw.
Remember, too, we see you, fluttering in black and white. Take
note of the boats, a last journey, and, one final time, swallow salt.

In the bleakest moments, the best anyone can do is comfort.
You have the stillborn there with you. You have AIDS victims,
and nameless wanderers. Amass them all, Dear Dead, and fly.
Yes, fly, no need to hover. Release yourselves as we carry on
like always. Heads bent. Hands ashed. Hearts feathered and tarred.