Simplon Pass

—for my brother


We are the only ones who ever lived who rode
in the backward facing seat in the way-back of our
gold behemoth 1957 Plymouth station wagon under
millions – a universe – of twinkling stars – heaven’s light
escaping. Alps behind us, Bologna and Rome ahead, the road in
its sixth or seventh hour of sickening switch-backs, and we’re singing
“For you and I have a guardian angel,” and I’m crying softly. There’s
a breeze. Dad’s cigarette smoke snakes its way back into the car. Sharp.
The three other kids are quiet, perhaps sleeping. Who else could ever know
what these children know? Even then you and I sensed this could happen only once.
Our lives would now have a before and after. …Imitating Bing Crosby’s croon, “little
one, why do you tarry?” And now our parents are gone, hopefully to a place among
those stars, prism for the light streaming through the universe. You may see
 them through your telescope from your high hill above the long leaf pines.
…Racing up hundreds of steps in Rome and Pisa, what was our hurry?
Did we really eat our first lasagna at a travelers’ rest perched on an
Alpine mountainside? Sweat through a papal audience in a Rococo
palace, and shiver by bones in the catacombs? Perfume and must.
We were always looking for meteorites amidst mica-flecked rock.
Well, the stars are still there. Slow down, little brother.
Feet up, window open. Let’s enjoy the descent.