The Message

The Message

Richard Rau is dead—
click, disconnect, a dial tone,
and I can’t stop crashing into things:
the coffee table creeps
three inches to kick me in the shin
and out of the medicine chest
toiletries tumble,
Richard Rau is dead—
perfume bottles shattering on tile,
slivers of glass in my feet,
and I can’t stop.
Each face I meet becomes
Richard Rau, nineteen,
after the accident, his right eye
paralyzed, then I remember
Richard Rau is dead—
and I wait for a light to change,
but the sidewalk shifts.
I fall, no one offers help and
Richard Rau is dead—
Cement gems in my hand, I stand,
my skin a road rash.
Some guy on a scooter asks:
“How’d that happen?”
Before I can answer,
he’s gone and I’m five
on a playground of oily asphalt,
shoved by Richard Rau
against a brick wall
in a blind alley behind school,
a fist full of grass stuffed
down my underpants, so I call
my machine but there’s only one message:
Richard Rau is dead—
and I recall how satisfied we were
when he got humbled by that stunt
senior year, stealing the flag,
yanking it from the towering pole,
a washer flying through the air,
perforating his eye, blood-
blistered and blind,
his handsome face forever marred,
and I can’t stop
wandering down avenues
past lap dogs, trash cans, newsstands,
wondering how his face looks now:
Is it frozen like his eye?
Was his drowning accidental?
I don’t know,
but at age thirty-eight
Richard Rau is dead—
and as I step off the curb
a garbage truck runs a red light,
barrels through the crosswalk,
barely missing me,
and a man leans out, one hand
on the wheel, the other waving
through a shroud of smog:
“Don’t stop, baby! Keep movin’. Keep movin’.”

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  1. I lost a childhood friend suddenly in adulthood and this poem kept running through my head ……Richard Rau is dead. Recently re-reading it, I still tear up. You have a unique ability to paint pictures with your words balancing the tragic with humor.

  2. Gretl, this is fabulous! Such a powerful way to capture the panic of early grief. We never appreciate what we have until they’re snatched away from us. This passage made me look back on the day with a refreshed sense of how wonderful the people around me really are. Loved it.

  3. One, two, millions of Richard Rau’s, always a new Richard Rau being born for the river to take. Where must he have crawled out, New Orleans? A good place for the Ghost of Richard Rau.

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