It wasn’t as deep as I expected,
your grave, next to the grandmother who died
when I was three. I threw a flower in
and fizzled off the scene like carbonation.
My body of course remained but all else
was a cluster of tiny white bubbles
floating up, up, up, to an unseen top.
I wore your vicuna coat and an ill-
fitting cloche from Alexander’s. I walked
among the rows, away from the men
covering the coffin, which was when I saw
“X,” Malcolm, a few yards down, “Paul Robeson,”
then “Judy Garland,” then—the car was waiting
and we had to go.
The cocktail parties
must be something there! You’d discuss self-help
and the relative merits of Garvey-
ism with Malcolm. Robeson would read
in a corner. Judy, divine in black
clam diggers, would throw back her head
and guffaw, smoke as many cigarettes
as she wanted.
Before you died I dreamed
of cocktail parties in your Harlem
apartment where you’d bring all our dead kin
back to life, for me! I was old enough
to drink with you, to wear a cocktail dress.
Like the best movies, the dream was black
and white, except for my grandmother’s
lipstick, which was red.
—Elizabeth Alexander, “After”
Art Credit R. H. Quaytman