514: Some Things are Unforgettable

514: Some Things are Unforgettable

514: Some Things are Unforgettable


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

It seems to me that the things that shouldn’t surprise me about life, are always surprising me. For example, I am always surprised that we are mortal beings. I can’t comprehend that we, ourselves, will die or that others around us die. When I was with my stepmother as she took her last breath at her home in Washington state, I remember coming back to Brooklyn and feeling as if I could not talk about it or I could not talk about it enough. I wanted to shake people and say, “Do you know? Do you know what happens to the body?”

Of course, we are always living at a time when people are dying. But when it is someone you love, a parent, a friend, everything seems to shift. I remember colors changing. The line between my dream life and my waking life was blurred. The scrim was thin between this world and the next. 

Ever since her death, I have believed that to sit next to someone in their final hours is an honor. But that honor comes with consequences. It will be burned into your heart, your mind, in all its inconstant and scattered images and you will have to carry it. 

Today’s poem by Alixen Pham does that work of carrying those final hours. And beyond that, it leaves room for that disconnected breathing, that inhale and exhale that’s so important for both the living and the dying. Here is an exceptional poem that honors the witnessing of a final moment.

Some Things Are Unforgettable 
by Alixen Pham 

                                I rise               like a wave
       The road       a snake        loosening skin


                                                                                                                  A tomb for cars
             Two metal doors     open

                                              My            eyes          search silver mirrors

The Horseman                gallops                                                     through my heart

                             Fingers    without         fingers    harp my            lungs

My two legs            trudge                   A green mile            without              flowers
                                             The bed
Consumes the room                                                           Consumes my father
                                         Like a half-eaten    merman
                    Bound to a cross       treading                wafer-flavor wine

                                                                                                           Years of living
     Grey        black     white                                                              winter’s heralds


Thousands                 of tiny spears      rain                                                the windows
                                                             Organs abandon

     A rainstorm
                                The monsoon
                                                           A river                     falls over
                                                                                     of my eyes          Color of salt

The taste of        bitter melon
                                                      A ventilator                      breathes
            metallic rasps                                       Prayers
                                                                                    in the cathedral
of my       skull

                                  A white lab coat calls my father’s                     brain

                                                                                      Her fishing expedition       empty
                            His attic                           remains                           cold
IV lines                                  choke me                              cold  
                 The                               weight            of ten suitcases          on my shoulders

An                        elliptic moon                        spins future
                                                              Oracle eyes                                  see

                                                                                       my father

                      at the pier                   waiting                 for me                mouth like waves
                                   Black soil                         The perfume of earthworms
A concrete                      mausoleum                                                      Mouths mouthing
                     pleading              crying


                    The Mekong River       tears                     into the Pacific Ocean
        The Puget Sound                The Columbia River                             My father’s body
                                      is ocean

                                       Loneliness                 Freedom

        The songs          of humpback whales                          Salmons
                        returning home                        Night fog                                     The cries
                                    of an albatross                             Where is its mate

                A heart monitor                       moans                          The ventilator gasps
like                                   an eel on land                   Blue         and purple
              trees                                  forest               on my father’s hands    and arms

                           The smell of                       moldy             grief
                                                        of ozone                                   of disinfectant
                                                                          O sweet morphine!

             The                            clock                            is                                                 jello
Black hands                                             drag                   time        like an anchor
                                                                             I am
                               glue                                                                                 Skin
                                                          like glass breaking
                                                                                                       Canyon eyes

                  A black                     hole                                my chest

My                        teeth                        inhale            sharply

My father’s                                                                                                                        last

                             A mist                          of white                            fireflies

"Some Things Are Unforgettable" by Alixen Pham. Used by permission of the poet.