Who On Earth

Matthew Dickman

In memory of Joseph Peterson

The sound of a basketball somewhere inside the dark tonight, somewhere in

the very inside of the rain. It sounds like a bird

banging itself back and forth between the walls of a chimney. In the chimney it is always Christmas night.

In me too.

Me too, a holiday dark and maybe some snow, some gust of wind. Some nightshirt.

Some holly, some red, inedible, berries and a bird poking at them with his beak.

I woke up this morning in Oregon again

just to say I love you though you have no parents on earth. Though you must, by now, have no body.

Inside the basketball just the sound of air and we can’t hear that.

Compressed air making the skin of the basketball taut. And we can’t hear that.

My friend in high school playing the comic relief to his suicide in a mix-tape he left behind.

My older brother playing the straight man to the ceiling fan that whirred above his body, when all the parts of his body stopped working

just whompwhompwhomp, just whompwhompwhompwhompwhomp.

Who loved him on earth more than the socks he had taken off and folded neatly by the door?

Who loved him on earth more than his sister more than his brothers more than his daughter loved him on earth?

Who on earth?

At Joseph’s funereal his parents cried and talked about how Joseph had recently returned to Christ just months before the car accident.

I guess, for her, that would have been squarely in the middle of just-in-time: Christmas night.

All his friends in the pews smiled but inside us whomp, whomp

whompwhompwhompwhomp whompwhompwhompwhompwhomp–

a bird breaking its neck in a chimney.

I’m having a whale-of-a-time tonight trying to remember just who was at the funeral. My applesauce brain.

My tea-and-cake body. Across the street the basketball bounces and in bed my little son is asleep and crying at the same time, the same beat, bouncing some grief off his ribcage.

All these sad boys.

I want to wake them all up, shake the dust off of their bones, kiss the sleep out of their eyes, smooth the sticky hair

away from their foreheads, hold them and walk them

through the house and pat them softly on their backs, between their shoulder blades, singing there-there.

Oh how are we ever loved on earth?

Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem (APR, 2008), Mayakovsky’s Revolver (Norton, 2012), Wonderland (Norton, 2018), and Husbandry (Norton, 2022). His work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, London Review of Books, and Esquire Magazine, among others. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his sons Hamza and Owen.