What the Living Do
– Marie Howe
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably
fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes
have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight
The open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in here, and
I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street,
the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my
wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to
pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss – we want more and more and
then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m
I am living, I remember you.
For more information on Marie Howe, please click here: http://www.mariehowe.com/
What the Living Do
– William Stafford
“No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark.”
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.
And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.
World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.
For more information on William Stafford, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-e-stafford
Some of the things it’s possible to do while walking the six-mile block you walk every day when you’re back in the land where you grew up:
Look north to the foothills of the Adirondacks and think, as you always do, how cool it is that a fifteen-minute drive behind the wheel of a car will bring you into the six million-acre Adirondack Park itself.
Lift your hand in greeting to each and every car that comes toward you, and watch as each and every driver lifts his hand back to you.
Notice that a few pairs of underwear are colors other than blue, black or white. Wonder if these colored undies are breaking a covert Amish rule. Decide that the answer is no, because otherwise they wouldn’t be hanging on the line for all to see.
Take a left on Crill Road and wait for the flock of wild turkeys to cross. Take your time, wild turkeys. Note a line of them in a distant field, walking single file with their heads bobbing up and down. Recall that your father told you they follow the manure spreader, picking out the corn that the cows didn’t absorb.
Think about all the wild turkeys you’ve seen lately: walking down the sidewalks in northeast Minneapolis, flocking on either side of the road the entire length of the Natchez Trace, and now here in upstate New York. Decide that wild turkeys are taking over the highways and byways of your fair nation, and wonder where it will all end.
Walk past this barn, which is the barn you grew up playing in, and think of all the hours you spent in it. Hayforts. Hay tunnels. Hay rooms underneath haystacks, in which you read by flashlight. Years of trying and not always succeeding to avoid the gaping holes in the floorboards. Think how great it is to be in your unsafe homeland, how great it is that those gaping holes are still there in the barn, along with the wide-open rectangles in the far wall. Decide that your nephew, the one who “fell” twenty feet to the ground out one of them and came up laughing, didn’t fall but leapt.
Count the number of Amish baked goods signs along the six miles and wish that it were Friday. Consider the spelling of “donut” as opposed to “doughnut.” Come down firmly on the side of “doughnut” but recognize wearily that you are out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to doughnuts.
Ask yourself: if this were Friday, which kind of Amish do(ugh)nut would you buy? There is no question: Cream Filled. The minute you decide on Cream Filled, immediately change your mind to Glazed. Decide that if this were Friday, you would buy four of each and take the whole box –wait, do the Amish use boxes?– home to your parents.
Wonder why, in recent years, you crave the wide-open west so much instead of these foothills and mountains you grew up in. Wonder if you’ll someday trade your one-room plumbingless shack on the slope in Vermont for a one-room plumbingless shack in Montana. Realize, as you walk the six miles of this block, that the wide-open west and the land where you grew up have much more in common than you ever thought.
Stop by and say hi to a friend. Wonder why the photo of his grave is so much bigger than your other photos.
Keep walking. Walk to the house where your friend and his wife lived. Walk across the grass and sit on the front steps of their house. Look out over the fields stretching south, the fields and the woods, and talk to him. Charlie, I’m sitting on your front steps. I’m looking out over the valley. Remember how you always told me it was God’s country?
Keep walking. Walk down the road to where your friend’s brother lives. See him coming out of the barn. Start to run so that you can catch up to him before he goes into the house. See him stop walking when he sees you coming. Listen as the first thing he says is, “I like your sneakers, Alison,” with his head down. Listen to yourself say, “I’m so sorry,” as you both start to cry. Sit on the porch with him and his wife for a long time, talking.
Stay up late with your father, sitting across the kitchen table, talking. Get up early and go to the diner with him next morning. Ride shotgun in his car as he drives you down the dirt road to the ten acres they’re having surveyed, because you can’t stand the thought of not having a piece of this land once the Amish have bought their place and they leave it. Stand with your father by the edge of the ten acres and point to a knoll that would be a pretty place to put up a plumbingless one-room shack.
When you leave next morning, have a hard time leaving.
Lady Look-Alike Lazarized
– Jennifer Michael Hecht
It was many, many years ago
in this house, with this tree
that a woman lived, whom I don’t know
in a photo you can see. She baked bread
and ate with two fat men
and her picture looks much like me.
I was a child and she was a child
then neither again would be
she in nineteen-thirteen
me near two-zero, one-three.
And we loved with a love that was more
than a love, at the heads of our centuries.
Let me see less than she’ll see
because I know more than she
and, even from here, it near-blinded me.
And with virtue and reason, long ago,
In this picture that looks like me,
A bug blew out of a cough one night,
chilling the woman who looks like me;
So her muscled kinsman came
and took her away from our tree
to bake no more bread for fat men
and escape the brutality.
Yes, a wind blew out of a cloud
one night chilling and killing
who looks like me.
Microbes, heartache, and wars
do not give way to reason nor pause
at the soaring wrought-iron gate
of Brooklyn, nor at the doors of state.
She was here and some time later died,
well before I arrived here or anywhere.
But our love, she for fat men, I for my
small and tall friends, is stronger by far
than the love of those younger or richer
than we, and who could be wiser than we?
And neither the redbreasts in heaven above,
Nor the dolphins down under the sea,
Can ever quite sever my sight from the sight
Of the woman who looks like me.
For the moon rarely beams without bringing
dark dreams to the woman who looks like me;
And the stars never rise but I feel my tight eyes
on a dark dream that looks like me; And so,
all nighttime, I lie down by the side of my
searching self and my self that hides. With a
photo from nineteen-hundred, one and three,
of a woman who looks a lot like me.
For more information on Jennifer Michael Hecht, please click here: http://www.jennifermichaelhecht.com/
The Best Moment of the Night
– Tony Hoagland
You had a moment with the dog,
down near the base of the butcher-block table
just as the party was getting started.
Just as the guests were bringing in
their potluck salads and vegetarian lasagna,
setting them down on the buffet,
you had an unforeseeable exchange of warmth
with this scruffy, bug-eyed creature
who let you scratch his ears.
He lives down there, among the high heels
and the cowboy boots, below the human roar
rising to its boil up above. Like his, your evening
is just beginning –but you
are lonelier than him. You think
that if you disappeared tonight,
you would not be missed for years;
yet here, the licking of the hands and face;
and here, the baring of the vulnerable belly.
You are still panting, and alive, and seeking love;
yet no one who knows you
about your wet, black nose,
or that you can wag your tail.
For more information on Tony Hoagland, please click here: http://www.tonyhoagland.com/