Communion

Lest we think he's gone, our brother
hangs like Jesus from the dining room wall,
watching over the scrambled eggs and biscuits.
In our father's house it is not necessary
to set a place for him. We all
break bread together. Only the joining
of hands, one with the other, singing grace
around the table, breaks the circle.

Behold. My brother is with me always.
In wedding pictures he's taken for the groom.
We are the couple looking at each other
longer than marriage. We are the ones
holding hands. Look at us, here, starting
down the aisle in the amber light
of time exposures. He's going to give me
away. Rose petals mark the path.
In the gingerbread house clergy await us.
We advance, white-framed, through vaulted ribs
into the forest. Step, hesitate. Squeeze
each other's hand to death. He and I know,
the next time we're here, step, hesitate,
he will be rolled down the aisle.
Mother will want the congregation to sing
"Faith of Our Fathers! Living Still."
Our knuckles show white in every picture.
There are no chicken bones for witches.

So it is, in her nightgown, our mother
offers me a hymnal, her dream folded inside.
It's visited her a dozen times. Before dawn,
she captured it on airmail stationery, meaning
to lift her tidings into my heart, her vision
of a private entrance to a stairway
spiraling up from a dark, stone rotunda
into an airy upper room where everything is white
and very clean, where veils billow from long
windows and fluted pilasters soar into sunbeams.
That I may prepare myself, she wants me
to believe, tucked deep in the black notes
between "Holy Spirit, Truth divine" and "This is
my Father's world," there's an enchanted cottage
complete without a kitchen, no sofas, no chairs,
just two Christmas trees and a high bronze bed.
This is where my brother lives. Up there.
Ahead of us. Waiting. And he's so happy.

He holds out his arms and gathers her in.
Now, she's so happy, she's not afraid of dying.
I haven't the heart to tell her it's a dream,
that he's still in my bed, holding me, promising
me Sparkle Plenty dolls for Christmas,
a Bissell sweeper, a long white dress
with a fingertip veil of Illusion,
a toy groom, encompassed by rose petals, left
waiting on the wedding cake.

"Communion" from Out of Canaan by Mary Stewart Hammond.
Copyright © 1991 by Mary Stewart Hammond. Originally appeared in The New Yorker. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.