We sort the cards at the kitchen table.
Instead of flowers, our people help
the family pay for the funeral.
My mother and aunt document
the names and amounts of money in each envelope.
Silent clerks of the economics of condolence.
I alone read the scrawls of sympathy.
Inside a card covered with lilies, someone writes
We are so sorry for your lost.
My uncle has lost his wife.
No. My uncle’s wife has died. No.
My aunt passed away. No.
My aunt died. She died
in the summer, in a season of gunpowder,
succumbed to fire in her lungs and stomach
and throat and everywhere.
This scrawl makes more sense
than anything else anyone’s written
inside a sympathy card.
Our dead are lost, aren’t they?
There is always some mistake:
lost down a well, lost in the woods.
Lost for words, lost to the world,
we’ll never make up for lost time.
The sheep, the baby, the prodigal son,
wandering beyond our imaginings,
on the border of our grief and need.
Michelle Peñaloza is author of landscape/heartbreak (Two Sylvias, 2015), and Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes (Organic Weapon Arts, 2015). Her full-length collection, Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire, won Inlandia Institute's 2018 Hillary Gravendyk National Prize and will be published in August 2019 . Her work can be found in Prairie Schooner, Upstreet, New England Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere. Michelle is a Kundiman fellow, a former Made at Hugo House Fellow, and the recipient of the 2019 Scotti Merrill Emerging Writer Award for Poetry from The Key West Literary Seminar, as well as scholarships from VONA Voices and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, among others. Michelle lives in rural Northern California.