The Insufficiency of Peripheral Grief

The wreck happened just up the road from me,
right when my brother and his girlfriend got to town.
Here’s the update you never want to see:
“The motorcyclist later died.” I didn’t know
I knew him until today. My mother kept
the obituary for me because she saw he swam
where I swim. I know his daughter from years past,
but hadn’t seen her grief on Facebook yet.
What can I say about a man I barely knew?
He was the perfect swimming lane neighbor.
Not too chatty, not a swamper, not a splasher,
not a drifter, nothing to distract me from the blue,
blue water I love. I guess he loved it too.
What good can writing a sonnet at this point do?

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The man’s name was Michael O’Leary–I didn’t realize I knew him until I saw his picture, and even then I had to imagine him without the glasses (because he didn’t wear them in the pool). His daughter was my student a long time ago. She’s pretty great & I’m very sad for her & her family. 67 is just way too young.

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Gullywasher

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At least no one was tailgating tonight
on the way home from work. It was a mess
of almost hydroplaning in the ruts
and lightning striking—BAM! with thunder right
away. And super low visibility
sometimes, I’d think “I should pull over now”
but then I couldn’t see where or how
and then it would clear up a little. Briefly.

The mulberries and mulberry-flavored bird shit
on my car is gone, washed away to compost
somewhere I don’t know where. Is that it?
You accept your level of suffering and the most
you can do in the dark is find the tiniest spot
of light? Clean car, and I’m alive. That’s actually a lot.

I Can’t Stop Saying Hoagy

“I’m a bit disappointed in myself. I know I could have accomplished a hell of a lot more… I could write anything any time I wanted to. But I let other things get in the way…. I’ve been floating around in the breeze.” Hoagy Carmichael

I’ve realized I don’t know much about Hoagy
except how happy his music and his name make me.
I’m not even sure I knew that “Heart and Soul”
was really a song beyond plunking it out
on any random piano. I first heard “Hong Kong Blues”
from a George Harrison album. Weird but true.
Hoagy sings the whole song in “To Have and Have Not”
which my sweet little town showed on the big screen last week.
He called his onscreen self a “hound-dog-faced
old musical philosopher noodling on the honky-tonk.”
When someone who did so much still wants to say
it wasn’t enough? It was enough. Even just that scene
when Cricket asks, “Hey Slim, are you still happy?”
That smile, that wiggly dance, that smile expanding.

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This is Hoagy Carmichael’s house in Bloomington, Indiana.

Allure

Before the play I watched her sit, posed, on a rock,
one knee bent up, near her chin. She was covered just so
modestly with what can only be called a frock,
one bright red shoe dangling from a pedicured toe.
Let me say more about her fabulous dress
which I got to observe going down the hill after
the play. Sheer and sleeveless, white, a mess
of summer flowers painted on the skirt.
Everything looked expensive and just exactly right.
I haven’t mentioned yet how old she was.
Seventy-something I’m guessing, which is why
it wasn’t a surprise to see her favoring her knees
as we made our way to the parking lot and why
I can’t get the way I saw her first out of my mind.

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These are my red shoes. Not hers. Still.

 

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I saw her before and after seeing The Unexpected Man at the Touchstone @ American Players Theatre (which is wonderful and which you should go see and which I will write about more if I can think of anything to say other than “perfect”) so of course I couldn’t possibly say anything to this woman about any of this.

Stay

When it’s cold and dark next winter, I will wish
for summer, crave it more than sugar, more
than sleep. When I start to feel bone-chilled, I’ll push
my memory buttons hard, hunting for
a night just like last night. Until the sun
went down, it was truly hot, still 90 at six
on our way to the park, sunglasses on,
multiple water bottles filled to the max.
When the sun finally hid behind a barn,
it was suddenly cool. My son’s team lost again
(they often do). It’s hard when you’re 12 to lose
and learn from it, to lose and not feel blue
all night. But he spent the ride home cheering for heat
lightning along the horizon, big and fast and pink.

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The Drawn Line

Excitement at breakfast: a house centipede
dropped from the ceiling (the ceiling fan?)
onto the kitchen table and skittered
(that is their word; almost nothing else
so purely skitters as they) through the clutter
on the table and onto the floor.
My husband rushed in responding
to the hollering and the laughing.
We don’t kill house centipedes at our house.
We gather them up and move them outside.
All of us do that, but this time my husband did
because my son and I were still laughing
and hollering. I kept saying how
I thought it was a mouse. I must have said
“corner of my eye” a dozen times.

The gentle gathering and removing is the mode
for spiders too, for my husband and son. It isn’t mine.
I blithely kill spiders inside. I don’t even apologize.
We all smush ants, every spring
in the seasonal onslaught of ants
which recedes by the middle of June
whether or not we clean obsessively
or put out syrupy poisons, so lately
we do nothing but annihilate them on sight.

And once again I’m fascinated by that line
we draw and where we draw it,
what we kill and what we eat
and what all we’re willing to tolerate.

What makes us say “oh well,”
what makes us say “enough,”
what makes us say nothing at all
because we didn’t see it skittering,
not even from the corner of our eye.

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Here’s a great blog post about house centipedes, which advocates for not killing them. I concur. But I’m less open to any blog about live and let live modes for spiders. Or ants.

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The End of the World Will Be So Pretty

“I can feel St. Elmo’s fire burning in me”

some 80s band

Fallout will make the sunsets stunning
someone told me and I believe it,
just like pollution from St. Louis once
turned the sky above the American Bottoms pink
to contrast nicely with the deep dark green
of the Cahokia Mounds.

Those mound-dwellers had it all
but they don’t have what we have,
so much potential as wasted as
the best chocolate-chip cookie in the world
chewed four times and spit out
by someone with different body issues
than I have, having never wasted a cookie,
never not once in my whole life,
unless you count as waste that whole
eating more calories than you burn thing,
in which case I waste food all the time,
but I don’t count that way and I wish you wouldn’t.
 
If only self-loathing could contour
my shape! If only rumination paid off
in dollars and not cortisol!
If only the strange map of cracking
in the front left panel of my Ford
could show me the way to solvency.

Are all the mustards invasive?
The splash of yellow I see in fields now,
and Dame’s Rockets everywhere—
it’s hard to hate them
with their bright mauvey pink bouncing
in the breeze that is somehow not
strong enough to discourage mosquitoes.

Reconciliation comes before repair,
at least I think it does, and so I try
to love what’s here and who I am
and the massive disasters around me
and trust I will know what to fix when
it’s time to fix and until such time
as fixing is all I care about, I will just let
the fact that I am a large woman make me feel the same way
a bad song from the 80s can make me
happy, just happy, just really happy.

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