Last Air

Jeffrey Gray

The road to the past is dirt
with a slant wood

fence that winds
beside it down the hill.

Calcium pours out of your bones
into your tissue,

salt burns like rope
through your hands.

Why wait another five minutes?
you thought. After that,

it was one foot in front
of the other.


She had to have shopped for the hose,
measured it, fit it with duct tape to
the pipe and run it through the back

seat, had to have chosen the spot,
driven there, looked east
over the freeway, smoked.

Had to have said goodbye to her
cat, still in the house when
the examiner arrived,

must have studied, learned how long
till sleep came, whether
there’d be pain.

She would have thought of the choices.
No blood, no shock. Two years
later, on a highway

in New Jersey, standing in the exhaust to tie
down 2 x 4’s, I thought: this was
the last air she breathed.


Summer returns like a sleeping
boy, the sky in the city

is full again
of the last air. Over the

canal, over the wooden
stairway sagging

back of the house, over
the gurney

at the funeral
home in the Fremont

district, just the other side
of the bridge

where Fred’s gallery perched
in the desert

of Seattle. On the bed
an old pink

quilt, its childish
planets spinning.

Jeffrey Gray has published poems in The American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, PN Review, and other journals. He is the author of Mastery’s End: Travel and Postwar American Poetry.
Originally published:
June 1, 2020


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