David’s Dead

[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]

Uncle David was a computer guy, and as children we loved to play the few games he had on his PC when we visited: a simple flight simulator when we moved into their apartment in Brookline; later an old Star Wars MS-DOS port in the Provincetown house; we tried to figure out the questions at the beginning of Leisure Suit Larry so we could see what the game was about. We loved Pool of Radiance.

But it was Michael, not David, who loved computer games, and he would eventually overtake us in his obsession with Nintendo games, especially the ones we brought with us from Seattle. To keep his mind off of David’s illness he would play Kid Icarus for hours, going through the game over and over again, racking up huge scores.

David Harkins

Michael and David shared domestic duties; Michael cooked, David cleaned. David was close to his family; his parents, sister, niece, and nephew were regulars at the family gatherings in Provincetown.

David and Michael

Medication, doctors, the Provincetown AIDS Support Group, and Michael’s care kept the disease at bay for years, but it slowly took its toll on David’s body. As he grew more lean and tired, they made sure David could spend his last days in the home he loved.

David finally gave up the ghost in his chair in the living room. Michael called my mother and told her “it’s over,” and we rushed up the Cape to help him manage things.

I remember the business of the family that distracted us the day of the memorial: the hastily arranged service at the UU church downtown, the last-second scrambling to avoid the attention of the Westboro Baptist protestors, in town to cause trouble elsewhere.

Michael and David visiting the beach, towards the end.

The twenty-ninth poem in Cape Cod Light is David’s Dead. It’s about Michael’s preoccupations in the days just before and after David’s death; the memorial service; the cremation; the paperwork.

David’s Dead

The adjustment occurred
And a ghost began to rise up
That would be the business of another Sunday.

Shuffle the weightlessness of it
Still innocently stained and floppy
Into a crisp white zip-lock bag for the burning.

At the end
He wasn’t into the big picture.
Details were enough, TV or a cigarette.

Junk the chair he fouled and died in.
He never spoke directly to Death
As he slipped into it. It just fit.

Somehow he’d managed to unbundle
The complaints, the indignations.
This chemical peace could be allowed,

Almost comfortable.
Nature displayed no conspicuous shudder.
The words came later, at the gathering of lovers

Where unintended bits of him cropped up
In the stories, gestures, and absences.
The paperwork is finished.
Mix his grainy dust with the dune.

The next poem is here.


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