My poems podcast, Words by Winter, can be found here.
Hey Driz. Drizzle. Z’Drazzle. Drazzle. Draz. It’s been just over a week since we held hands in your living room and talked and laughed and cried. We both knew it would be our last conversation.
Daisy the dog kept watch from the porch. I don’t know who has her now, but I know it’s someone wonderful, because you would have made sure of that.
Last night I lay awake thinking about Grandpa, that past, ancient dog of yours, the one you cared for with such devotion that you spent hours every night —hours–wandering your backyard with him as he stumbled around the perimeter, looking for something that never appeared.
You had so much more patience than I ever will, Z’drizzle.
To your students, you were that teacher, the teacher they’ll remember their entire lives, the teacher who saw them, who knew them, who understood them in a way no one else did. I may as well have been one of your students.
Remember our greasy breakfasts and love of diners? Remember how you introduced me to Al’s? Remember our mutual adoration of the State Fair?
How about the day you brought a few of your favorite students all the way to Minneapolis to meet me? You taught them to love my first novel. Remember her, you said, pretending I couldn’t hear you. She’s going to be famous. Then you took them all out for pizza in the big city.
Remember that time we sailed around the streets of Elbow Lake in that giant old convertible of yours, when I was the author for the author event you yourself had organized and we were already fifteen minutes late? You were always late. This didn’t seem to bother you or anyone else either. Maybe because everyone loved you so much.
Did it surprise me that the Go Fund Me organized by your students surpassed its $100 goal by over $12,000? It did not. Did it surprise me that you never mentioned a word of it to me? It did not.
Remember when you went surfing for the first time, on that trip to southern California? I never heard you talk like that. Never saw that look in your eyes. You loved surfing in a way that changed you. I remember trying to figure out how you, on a rural teacher’s salary, could somehow afford to go surfing in California more often.
The only novel of mine you didn’t know practically by heart is the last one, the one I dedicated to you, Z’draz, long before we knew you were sick. You never read that one because Dammit, you always make me cry, Alison McGhee, and I have to save my tears until I’m through this and can handle another Alison McGhee book.
Z’driz, you always called me by my full name. In every single conversation we ever had, including the last one, you would at some point pause, shake your head, and say Alison McGhee, with this look in your eyes. As if I was some kind of wonder. Which I’m not, but guess what? You were.
Zdrazil loved my writing, I wept to a friend the other night. He loved me. It was like I couldn’t do anything wrong in his eyes.
Oh my beautiful friend. I will miss you forever.
You told me that last day you were scared to die and I told you I didn’t trust people who weren’t. We laughed about that, a little. Four days later you crossed through that door.
I’m going to write about you, John Zdrazil, I said, when you couldn’t keep your eyes open anymore and I knew it was time to go. And you know I mean it because I’m using your full and proper name.
Ordinarily that would’ve made you laugh, but you just looked me in the eye and nodded slowly. Then your eyes filled.
Write me a poem, you said.
John Zdrazil, that is the one and only request you ever made of me. Write me a poem. I drove the three hours home and wrote you a series of haiku then and there, so I could text them to you before it was too late. We were out of time and we both knew it. We’re all out of time, which is why we should be careful of each other, and kind, the way you always were, John.
The Mower, by Philip Larkin
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
a hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
killed. It had been in the long grass.
I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
unmendably. Burial was no help:
Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
is always the same; we should be careful
of each other, we should be kind
while there is still time.