My Sister’s Funeral

by Martha Heyneman

I rented the house next door to hers
for the occasion — on Inverness Ridge
overlooking Tomales Bay, where the San
Andreas fault hides under peaceful water.

My sister was like that: enormous rage
completely concealed under perfect composure:
straight back, self-discipline, preference
for old-timey things, as she called them, and
solitude.  “I want my space!” she snapped,

after I had stayed two of the four weeks I’d promised,
to help her when she fell and broke her arm.  Later,
she called me late one night and confessed
she was lonely.  The day she had the big stroke
she went swimming.

              Entering the pool she said,
“I’m too old, too cold, too tired,” her granddaughter told me,
and when she was struck down the air was full
of those magical light white cottonwood seeds
floating upward like angels.

Her five children marched down into the woods with her ashes
and sent up a shout when they opened the can and let them fly.

First a turkey buzzard flew across the deck where I waited.
“That’s not right,” I said—but then came a blackbird,
small and free and letting her wild song ring out at last
in the open air.

— from Juniper Volume 1, Issue 2