“And what of the dead? They lie without shoes  
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse   
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.”

-Anne Sexton
“The Truth the Dead Know”

Z. works for the city. His belly pulls him off balance, so he moves slowly, step, pause, breath, step, pause, breath, and then sits on his porch and throws chicken bones into the yard. Our dog is willing to wreck her neck to get to even one of them. The dog pulls so hard she almost knocks the double stroller over, and both kids start crying and then laughing because cheerios fly off the stroller’s plastic trays, and flying cereal to toddlers is funny. Z.’s ambulance is early in the morning. Paramedics hoist Z. onto the stretcher, and the ambulance makes 6 AM an unwanted carnival. He doesn’t die. A few days later, he is on his porch, yelling to us, “Hello, it’s hot today, hello.”

S. hangs himself in his basement after a few months’ stint on an anti-depressant. He works at the toy store, the basement of which is rumored to be haunted, but this isn’t that basement; this is the basement of his house. A few days before, we were all in his yard, my children practicing archery with a wooden bow or light saber dueling, and S., sitting on a folding chair, promised to make a water-filled blob for the kids to bounce on in summer. The ambulance parks almost sideways in front of S.’s house, lights and sirens, because they think it’s possible to take S. down, to reverse the damage done, but they don’t know yet, as they run up his stairs that are in need of painting, it has been hours. The ship has sailed. The die is cast. Whatever whatever it’s over. 

T. dies young of a heart attack, young enough that it’s the one thing everyone says: he was so young. His ambulance, it seems like they know. I watch the paramedics while the grackles, probably unaware, amass on the lawn in a clatter. I think there’s a line from a poem that goes something like, “Even the birds know,” and the birds here seem oblivious, or maybe amassing on a lawn is something they do in a time of irreversible tragedy. A week later, my own husband will, with the children, throw sunflower seeds onto our lawn and some birds, the same birds maybe, will descend like a cloud, stuff themselves, and rise up and out of sight as if they were never there. Our lawn is overgrown clover, and T’s lawn, where his wife stands in shorts, her face no longer a question, his lawn looks perfect enough to have been trimmed by nail scissors, but grass at a moment like this means nothing.

B. threatens suicide. She’s in the street in her robe. Her children are somewhere I can’t see. It’s cold, December, and I’m sitting with coffee. My children are yelling at each other upstairs, some kind of you did that, no you did that back and forth. They are old enough that when they yell like that it surprises me. The things on the walls of their rooms are things they selected instead of things I selected. The bay window glass outside of which B. walks is stippled as old glass can be, so the tree branches look wobbly. B. looks wobbly. I didn’t expect an ambulance, though maybe a good rule of thumb is to always expect an ambulance. B. looks up before she ducks into the police car. I don’t want her to see me, but I also want to say, “Motherhood, while sometimes the best, can also be the worst. Don’t leave.” Her ambulance drives away, and there’s the absolute beauty of her not being in it.

F. dies in the early morning, a few months after cancer lodged in an organ and methodically replicated. The body turns in and decays much like wood or paper. I hear the sirens and then check the police scanner Facebook group, which reports, “unknown medical,” and then the numeric block where I live. There are so many cars: police, ambulance, fire chief, fire truck, a black SUV. I’m braless on my front porch crying. People are leaving for work, and people are eating cereal across the street behind glass. Later, I see another neighbor on a bike, and she says, “Lots of drama on the block this morning,” and I, with my two kids, walking, say, “Yeah, this is really sad, but F. passed this morning.” The neighbor shifts off her bike seat. “Oh, that’s terrible. I didn’t really know her, but that’s so sad.” My kids and I keep walking. They are as tall as I am, taller. Soon we’re talking about which order is the best order to re-watch all the Avengers movies: strictly chronological or other. Later, a truck comes to F.’s house and loads oxygen tanks into the back, and surely they will be transported to the house of someone else also dying.

The ambulances are lined up in the parking lot of the hospital, which is near the river, though you can’t see the water from there. It’s enough to know it’s there, the muddy strip of it, teeming. Paramedics smoke cigarettes and lean against a brick wall. They laugh at something and then look at the sky, which is ridiculously blue. My kids and I walk toward the water. They are already thinking of leaving, and time, as everyone always says it does, is flying, so why not make it a day, why not stand in the tall grass and watch whole tree trunks float by going somewhere. We are not stone boats, and my fear of death is banal. Movement until not movement. Breath until not breath. Go on.

© Amy Stuber
[This piece was selected by Heather Cripps. Read Amy’s interview]