12/30/2009

"Lemon Pie" by Bill Holm


For your last Thanksgiving in Minneota I invited half the universe,
Holm's single-handed feed-the-hungry, stuff-the-lonesome-stranger
with turkey and giblets and pie. Already death had winked at you
once or twice from behind its shadowy curtain.
My neighbors pitched in with gravy, bread, and labor. Thursday morning
Tom brought lemon pies, steaming, acid-sweet smell,
majestic meringues, soaring peaks of beaten egg white.
On the table cooling, you smelled them, found a fork,
and, a mischievous sweet-toothed boy, were set to violate a hot meringue,
when I walked in and said, sharp of voice, "Get the hell out of there!
Those hot pies will be ruined if you dig into them."
"So what?" You shot me an insulted look. "They're only pies.
Eat them yourself." You skulked out into the morning. Toward night
your snit evaporated, and you resumed your usual grace and humor.
By then I'd grown my guilty conscience, remembering
that you lived under sentence of impending death.
I should have kept my mouth shut, one nagging inner voice
said to another, watched you put an entire hot lemon pie
into your gullet. What a hard business being human -
all we know and remember shadows every simple act.
The next Thanksgiving you lay close to death, all food
loathsome, indigestible. Kept half alive with cans
of glutinous Ensure, we made a lemon pie to tempt you
into one more small pleasure, but you impaled
the pie with a fork, left it standing upright in the meringue,
and turned away, lost to all joy.
We are who we are until we aren't anything anymore but air.
I carry that steaming pie to my own grave, offering it to you
over and over again, atonement. I hear your wry voice
saying, as it said so often:
"Eat dessert first; life is short and uncertain."

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