Last Testament


Pressed between pages, this realistic painting

of hands, fingers curled and caked with dirt,

holding or holding-on to other hands, antiqued

and chipped like statuary, one pair in particular

outstretched like a praying set, proffering

a book, a penny, a mirror, a horror: a memory

like a recurring dream of returning

hands, yours among them in that GIF

your brother sent, a huge file that took

whole minutes to download on the ancient

computer and sketchy connection at my parents’

house in the sticks where I’d become a blown

glass figure in the sunroom window, and them

unsure how or whether to touch me, when or if

I could be left alone. Meanwhile I waited

for what I knew and didn’t know was coming.

Looking and quickly looking away. Through

the phone your brother’s voice said he’d stand

beside me, have my back. A voice that sounded

like my own spoke back. He said not to worry

about the rest of the family, what they did

or said or would or wouldn’t say.

Vowed to hold my hand through the wake,

the service in the frigid little chapel at Hall

Davis & Son Funeral Service, at least until

he rose to preach, to speak, but who

selects who’s heard, whose voice still

speaks, and who am I, uninvited, not

noted among the pallbearers, the survived-by,

and what right this ghostface like a negative

beside the all-black congregation in Baton Rouge

while outside August suffocates, wavering

toward which car, not the family, surely, and why

Lord how much more, hand-wringing and weeping,

twenty miles to Port Hudson National Cemetery,

drooping flowers suffering the heat, stunned anew

by all twenty-one blasts of the graveside salute,

the American flag draped folded and handed-

over. Not to me, though I reached. To the silent

father you last saw when you were nine.

But grief is steeped and wrenched by greed.

Each time I closed my eyes your hands reached

to hold me still. I opened them and told your brother

yes, I would meet to introduce the you he hadn’t seen

or tried to see in twenty years. I could still see you

in the photo. He wanted me to say it looked

like you again. My eyes fell from the faded

bloated hand-painted face (no longer golden,

each freckle buried under pancake) to the stiff-

collared shirt that hid the scarred neck,

down to the cuff of the new brown suit,

your folded hands laid forever over your

privates. All you had and had not done,

and by your own hand, and all the parts

(including me) unmentioned, not

at the service and never again.

The lid raised and gaping, and against

golden lining, something both you

and not you on view despite your wish

to be (written, erased, all your words) turned

to ash, scattered by my hands. Your hands

provided a place to focus until I could

summon the will the will the will to—


Wayne Johns received the Rane Arroyo prize for his chapbook, The Exclusion Zone, forthcoming from Seven Kitchens Press in Winter 2018. His first collection, Antipsalms, received the Editor's Choice prize from Unicorn Press and is forthcoming in Fall 2018. His poems have appeared in New England Review, Ploughshares, Image, Prairie Schooner, and Best New Poets, among others.