2001 Winner’s Poem

The Perfection

by Paul Hostovsky
On the way to bury you
a yellow BMW (a bee
among the mourners)

was weaving in and out of our little
lit line of grief
winding down route 22 to the cemetery.

It made me think of you – the restlessness,
the thoughtlessness — the way
he fell in line with us, then left us,

then the left lane slowed and he was back again.
I wondered if the sun drowned out the lights
that strung our private darkness faintly together.

Or maybe, seeing the lights,
he saw the darkness had the right of way
and swung into our midst to overtake us,

this acrobat among the yarmulkes,
now flying out in front, now closing ranks
behind the rabbi’s car.

I always thought you’d recognize yourself
eventually; a long time afterwards maybe,
the way you used to be when you couldn’t help it

or see it even. And seeing it then —
and in someone else — it would feel a little like love,
only love a little too late.

Mostly it felt like perfection as we turned that corner
into the cemetery,
and out he shot — the bee — as from a jar,

as if he’d suffocate to death if death
contained him any longer,
a thin blue cloud of exhaust

hanging in the air behind him, like a veil.

Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Award 2001, Judged by Mary Oliver: As of 2001, Paul Hostovsky lived in the Boston area where he works as an interpreter for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf. His poems have appeared in The Carolina Quarterly and The Lyric, among others, and his first book, Sonnets from South Mountain, came out in 2001.