Issue 25 – 2014 – Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn


The Washing of the Body

Blood carries oxygen & each muscle 

                                        hungers for it 


             a fluorescent stutters above your head 

I don’t understand     then I do 

gasp to gasp I hold your hand     your hand 
                         becoming air & 


                         after a while we get hungry 

               we ride the elevator down & after a while 


                                                      you stop 


                           Marie: What happens now? 
                           Nurse: First we wash the body, 

                                      then we send him downstairs. 

                           Marie: Can we be the ones to wash him— 

                                      I mean, can the men? 

Twenty years I’ve tried to write this 
              only to end up 


                        this isn’t it, this isn’t it 




                                      your mother 
as we came off the elevator         her tears 


her palm on your door 

                                      Marie tells us 
a pure light filled the room         tells us 


                         we would be the ones 


             that we would be the ones to wash you


the door behind us closes 


A year earlier (or was it after?) in Prague I’d 
              stood before a mural at the Jewish 


                           cemetery, twelve 


panels (twelve?), a body passed 
             from death bed to grave 


one panel titled 
                            the washing of the body 


        & three men stood around him 
& each held a cloth 


The light dimmed now     no one knows how 
                                                               to begin 


then one finds a pan & fills it     then one floats 
                                        a small bar of soap 


one says       I’ve never seen a body 
one says       I’ve never touched one 


A dead one      one laughs      He’s still here 
                                                  one says 


            one calls you sweetie 


we each take a cloth     Billy, 
we’re going to wash you now,


                                              Billy, sweetheart


I tried to write about the blizzard 
I got stranded 
                         after we scattered your ash 

my truck (remember?)—your tv, your 
chair, your rug—in back       it never made it 


                           to the city, I abandoned it all in 
the snow 


The hair on your thigh mats beneath 
                                                    my hand 


faint blue your lips      your nostrils caked 


one strokes your forehead 
            one spreads your toes 


He’s in good shape     one says 
                           No wasting      one says 


The ring on your finger     soap won’t release it 
it’s almost too late 
                                      you can almost not hear 


once we untie your johnny the ring is all 
that isn’t you 


your back still warm where the blood 


one whispers         Sweetie, 
we’re going to roll you over now 



In previous incarnations Nick Flynn has worked as a ship’s captain, an electrician, and a caseworker with homeless adults. He is currently a professor on the creative writing faculty of the University of Houston. His most recent book is The Reenactments (Norton, 2013). The poem herein is forthcoming in My Feelings (Graywolf, 2015).