On My Way to the Sudoku

On my way to the Sudoku I glance at the obituary page
and see a familiar smile on a familiar face and my breath abandons me,
leaving an aching vacuum in my chest, because I saw this man—James,
the obituary says, but I knew him as someone with the more affable name Jim—
only a couple of weeks ago, full of life, in the locker room at the Y,
where we traded pleasantries almost daily, and he gave me his usual hello then,
as always a little wistful but amiable in a genuine sort of way.

He had arthritis, an affliction that slowed his walk and stooped his shoulders,
but didn’t keep him from greeting the guys dressing nearby or wandering past,
and everyone said hi back at him, which is how I came to know
his name (formal introductions don’t fly when you’re not wearing clothes).
He was a swimmer, and I once asked him about his swim fins and he took the time
to tell me about them and where to find them and how much they cost.
I never bought any—I’m a dry land kind of exerciser—but you never know.

The fins propelled us into a chance to talk, something beyond a nod and a grunt.

The bare-bones obituary says he was 63—

an age that I once thought was old,
but not now.
It says he had a dad and some cousins.
That’s it.
It doesn’t mention the men at the Y who enjoyed seeing his smile
and exchanging a few friendly words with him and now wish they’d done more.

It doesn’t say how he died.
It doesn’t say how empty the locker room seems now.
If a guy dies at 63, he shouldn’t be written off, he should be written about,
his obituary should say more,
especially if he’s someone whose smiling photo catches my eye—
and pilfers my breath—
on my way to the Sudoku.

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