On Reading the Death Certificate

By Mark Saba

On reading the death certificate
of my father, aged 29, my brother said
What do you make of the interval

between onset and death?
What do I make of the tiny cells
that stood ready to multiply

in the deepest part of his brain?
How long did they wait there?
In the interval between onset and death

he hopped the rooftops of a Pittsburgh
neighborhood with his cousin Ralph.
In the interval between onset and death

he sat diligently in a high school
political theory class, wondering what part of him
reared by Italian immigrants

might allow him to speak. In the interval
he sat with our mother in the booth
of the drug store soda fountain.

In the interval they found each other’s bodies
on their wedding night, amazed.
In the interval he drove over snowy roads

to pick up our grandmother from the 54C
streetcar, a boxful of pizzelles in her hand.
He measured out pills, elixirs, and ointments

in a profession that allowed him to find order
in a senseless world. In the interval
he forgot who he was, his senses slowly dulled

as he lay breathing in a hospital bed
surrounded by blinding lights, remembering
reels of home movies of us he’d shot

wondering what might have been real.


Mark Saba has been writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction for 40 years. His book publications include four works of fiction and three of poetry, most recently Two Novellas: A Luke of All Ages / Fire and Ice (fiction), Calling the Names (poetry) and Ghost Tracks (stories about Pittsburgh, where he grew up). His work has appeared widely in literary magazines around the U.S. and abroad. He is also a painter and works as a medical illustrator at Yale University. Please see marksabawriter.com.

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