Denise Duhamel


Sophia Calle, with her mom’s permission,
set up a camera to film her last breath,
not knowing, of course, when
it would come. I can’t bring myself
to describe what my mother looked like
the morning of her death. The nurses
had cleaned her up, but…I can’t write more.
Surely you have your own experience
to draw upon—or one day will. We buried
my mother in the ground and scattered
her belongings—a bureau for my sister,
hutches and tables for my nieces, a chair
for me. Sophie took her mother’s portrait,
Chanel necklace, and a diamond ring
to the North Pole, where her mother had always
wanted to go. She buried them all
under a stone on Starvation Glacier.
I took my mother’s prayer card and a votive
candle and gathered shells to make an altar
in the sand. My mother loved the waves—
she had been everywhere she ever wanted to go
except for Atlantis. I keep trying to craft
the right sentence to explain
my mother’s impact. Sophia Calle
edited the footage to 11 minutes and called
her film Impossible to Catch Death.


Two handsome boys—pecs glistening, in orange trunks—
approach me in my 55th year. Boys who would have ignored me
in high school. Boys who can maybe see now I am someone.
Maybe they recognize my confidence, that I have recently lost
weight. I am at a picnic table in Key West, my age-appropriate
boyfriend in the restroom. Maybe when he returns he’ll be
impressed I’ve attracted the attention of these young men. Of course,
I’ll make sure to tell them I’m with someone. Excuse me, ma’am,
the taller one says, my friend scraped his foot on the rocks. The injured boy
lifts his sole to show me his gash then looks at me helpless.
In that instant I become his mother or gramma,
a favorite aunt. Do you have a Band-Aid?
I pull one from my beach bag. Of course I do. Of course.

Denise Duhamel’s most recent books of poetry are Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021) and Scald (2017). Blowout (2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, she is a distinguished university professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.