a portrait of the day phife dawg died

here i am, huddled under the north hoop at the court i used to play pickup ball on, & i am telling joey about how a tribe called quest rapped to a painting of phife on saturday night live the winter after he passed. i tell him this because we have all earned this performance in the same way we’ve earned this spring snowfall, resting on our goosebumps like attic dust. i tell joey about how the name phife sounds like the kind of name a person born into royalty & the crown painted onto him, a royal death mask for a royal burial, glistened in the final minutes of a freezing saturday. i recall how q-tip & jedi kept going without their best friend, dancing on stage while a recording of phife played from a speaker & there’s a tiny rattle at the beginning of it, & i’ve convinced myself since then it was just laughter. & someone’s voice runs into this cell phone in my pocket & the glowing words on the other side of the line tell me that ruth is in the hospital & i picture the smell of the chicken farm down the road as the birthday meal she made me the day before. I think about how phife used to rap with high blood sugar, & i consider ruth’s shell slaving over the stove before dinner while the seams keeping that hole in her stomach closed ripped open with every syllable & in that moment, god called ruth’s cornbread: bacterial pneumonia. lungs separated from the brain will try breathing on their own, but a brain separated from a pair of lungs melts like the skin of an overworked body. egyptians would place the bodies of dead pharaohs in terracotta coffins deep in shallow oval pits, cover them head to toe in gemstones, food, & ancient games. & there’d be human sacrifices mummified, turned into marmalade-colored flesh figurines, & chosen to stand guard for their beloved prince. every fallen god would be dressed in golden death masks coated in sapphires & rubies, glittering glasswing butterflies made of glass, & pink atlas moths adorning blooming jasmines, & their souls would live in the tombs, their mechanoreceptors clanging off the mud walls—humming melodies & beats deep behind stone entryways. that & so many other stories are what i tell my friends when i’m in search for paint blended in the clouds, for thrones crumbling, for making the broken things in my life whole again. later i pressed my back against the wall of ruth’s hospital room & the bed before me carried the bones of a queen & the tube down her throat began pulsating on its way up out of her mouth & the cords plugging her existence into a monitor contorted & coiled into a crown of thorns, a glowing death mask of spare oxygen, & she looked at me & i told her a story about how the name ruth sort of sounds like the name of a person all of the royalty might have come from as the glowing switches & levers of life dimmed & burned out above her unwashed hair. i talked at her body as she mouthed words at me i couldn’t understand & i looked up at the machine keeping her going, listening to the hums it let out, & i convinced myself it was just laughter