Oh strange party of the heart. Who in that living room
was what we call alive? Mother
was dead of course, that’s why we were
at her friend Laura’s party, Laura who said, Her obituary is
perfect, except for one word—you described

your parents’ wartime romance as a whirlwind,
but your mother told me their courtship was
torrid. Strange heartfelt party where somnambulists
who felt like weeping instead placed bets
on whatever might blaze fastest.

In postwar Paris, Laura passed a gallery each evening
and longed for the Modigliani in the window.
One bereft day it was gone. Then finding it was
only being cleaned, she gambled everything she had
and made an offer. Modigliani, the spectacular, the impossible

man, who had TB by sixteen and knew his only chance
was a brief but intense life.
And out of the wreckage he made of that knowledge,
out of absinthe, out of poverty, out of hashish,
out of treating those he loved

terribly, came this serene portrait, a young Polish émigrée,
head at a slight tilt,
nose long and curving as a Byzantine Madonna’s,
piled-up dark hair just beginning to unravel
above a small, colorful smile. Sixty-three years

she’s traveled with me, Laura told my father. Almost as long
as you and Alice were married.
Laura’s gone now, the painting is journeying someplace new,
and I’m told that Laura’s friend at the party, Hana,
has also died. Hearing Hana was from Prague

Dad said, Lovely city! I was there once, then stopped
himself, realizing it wasn’t part of his grand tour—
he’d seen it from the air, seen it beneath flak and flames.
So many ghosts, even at the most recent parties.
Under the Polish woman’s portrait, the taste of mint

and strong, sweet juleps, Mother at the center of things,
my father smiling on the edge of tears, and the horses burst
from their floodgates, colors surging above a wet-fast track,
all of us hovering between a hush and a shout,
and it’s the horse so far back its jockey couldn’t see

the rest of the field, the 50-to-1 gelding that charged the rail
so quickly the announcer missed him till he was three lengths clear—
a spectacular upset, an impossible
result! Mother, after twelve days of sleepwalking we wake
to find ourselves applauding a jockey with a Cajun accent

who tosses a rose to the sky, the son who left school after ninth grade
but promised his parents he would amount to something,
and in this party going on in my heart
where some of us are dead and the rest will follow soon enough
everyone for the time

being is singing, and the words go, Weep no more, my lady
None of us picked the winner, but we’re cheering
the horse from nowhere,
we’re throwing our brief intense roses
into the waiting air—