Had Ritual Required

In a supermarket, aisles gorged with mustard, oil, and spices,
a friend — untouched by my loss — quotes Buddha. “Happiness is when
the father buries the grandfather and the son buries the father.”

Strange, I think this serving up of happiness and death.
Levity was no guest at my daddy’s last meal.
Still, it could not be called tragic.

And now, after the grief, pain is only an abstraction, like my father’s mark
cut into the spring grass no larger than a dinner plate.

No longer do his footsteps fall on the garden path.
No longer does he reach for the bread at the table.
Five pieces, that’s what he ate as a young man —
cocky, immoderate, and restless. Five pieces with every meal.
And those meals. My grandmother was surely no cook.
Canned peaches. Canned limas. Fried ham. Black coffee.
And lots and lots of white bread.

Dad remembered her cooking and how little there was to recommend it.
But it didn’t matter. His love for her was mythic,
not built from routine domestic pleasure or repeated gesture.
He buried her a year ago, and now we’ve buried him.
Him and his good apple pies.

Funny this connection of food and death.
The Pharaohs, the Inca, the Arapaho — all sent with sustenance for the trip.

And had custom permitted, had ritual required, I too would have sent my father with a small plate with five pieces of bread stacked up one upon the other. Familiar food for an ineffable journey.

But the little plate did not accompany him.
Instead it remains behind and now serves as a link between us.
Reminding me.

The dead too have their place at the table.