The Old Man smiled
at the precocious three year old
serving him a beer
in the backyard gathering
after the funeral.

She worked the group
like a skilled barmaid,
knew her cans and brands,
remembering faces and orders
without a hitch.

He leaned toward me
and whispered, “She’s been here before.”
Of course it was a joke
but also a metaphor—he was Irish
for Fuck’s sake—

though it was obvious
she literally knew a Hamms
from a Budweiser, had done this
before, he played up the ghostly
myth that she was an old soul

inhabiting a child’s body.
And I doubt he believed in
reincarnation anymore than
he detested resurrection,
but I loved the idea, the mystery.

It made me think, imagine
where she’d been, and what
I remember from being a kid
exposed to adults struggling
and losing it, the pains

and pleasures of surviving shit,
plus death, that ultimate trip,
the exclamation point—all of
it—signifying nothing. Those
boys and girls who get that

early edjukashun, grow older
than their years, getting a jump on
the jaded journey. Many have
turned to art to manage bouts
of obsession and depression.

Maybe she will. I know I began
talking to myself at an early age.
I started out addressing God
but got no response, so I became
my own best listener. My friends

are driven to chase music and movement,
shape language and form, create
images, sounds, rattle bones to
ashes, dust the cosmic storm, and follow
their dreams into the unknown.

—for Melissa Stephenson

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