In homage to a poem by Billy Collins

“I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna” – Billy Collins, “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July”

He says:  I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna.

She says:  Oh, you remember.  It was the time Dad took you boys to the Mississippi and got you all ice cream afterward.

He says:  Mom, that’s the Mississippi.  You said Susquehanna.

She says:  Did I?  Well, it was the time Dad came back with a whole load of fish.

He says:  We never caught anything.  Dad took us to the river five times and we never caught anything.

She says:  I was gutting fish for days.  Fish heads everywhere.

He says:  We never caught any fish.  That’s what I’m trying to tell you.  Billy and Jerome and me.  No fish.

She says:  The kitchen smelled of fish for days.

He says:  Dad never took us fishing, Mom.  Five times to the Mississippi and he never took us fishing. (Beat) It was  the riverboats.

She says:  Riverboats?

He says.  Gambling, Mom, gambling.

She says:  That’s the Susquehanna.  It’s on the Indian Reservation.

He says:  I never fished on the Susquehanna.

A curl of transgressions

She loves a cloak of flame.  She feels the heat lick her skin as she settles its folds around her shoulders and lets it drape along her flanks.  The skin eagerly soaks up the heat.

There is no time to let the dark smoke of her transgressions curl around her.  She seizes the crackling spotlight of celebrity.

Onstage she is sorceress, her beauty a crime, her desire palpable.  They swarm her presence, the husbands of other women, the sons of other mothers.  She assumes their adoration like a wily goddess. She knows where their secrets lie.  She harvests the empassioned with the span of her hips, the stride of her step.  All the while, the enflamed cloak of her ambition scorches her skin and slowly burns toward the center of her being, like a brushfire untamed.

As quickly as light travels

The ripple and splash of rain on the blurred glass / Seemed that it briefly said, as I walked by, / Something I should have liked to say to you, / Something … / . . . while the wintry rain / (Unspeakable, the distance in the mind!) / Runs on the standing windows and away. “ – Howard Nemerov, “Storm Windows”

Time, light, and window were one by Henk Sijgers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License
Time, light, and window were one by Henk Sijgers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Sean went back only once after his mother died.  The factory was still there, the rain steaming up the windows like it always did in the middle of winter.  He used to stand and stare at the blurred glass when he was a child, waiting for his parents to finish the work that never seemed to end, shivering in the cold drafts of this part of Ireland, where it felt like the sun never shone, or if it did, it shone only on others.  It was hard being the only son, the only child, and when all the other children at school had huge families, throngs of siblings, he was the only one in his family, and when he grew older he could sometimes see the sorrow in his mother’s eyes when he looked for it, and the hardened emotion in his father’s frown.  He could feel the pain of omission in the gut of their family life, as his parents worked harder and harder each year to make the factory remain solvent, and to know that each year the way did not improve, but only became more desperate, until his mother had shut it down after his father’s heart attack and passing.  And now his mother was gone, too.  As he stood in the factory behind the streaming glass windows Sean thought of how he might have come back after college, how he might have lived in the village and helped with the work in his parent’s business.  But as soon as the thought came to him, as quickly as light travels, he knew he could never have come back, and as quickly as light travels he knew it had broken their hearts.  But it was not a thing to be undone, not even if he’d wanted to, now that his mother and his father, too, were in their graves out beside the old church.  No, his life was saved by the instinct not to stay, even if his heart, too, had been lost.

There is one small thing here

Maybe it does not work but that is not even the point here. by zoghal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Maybe it does not work but that is not even the point here. by zoghal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

She had left a bit of skin on the peach when she peeled it, that last night before he left, and when she brought the sliced peach to him, in a bowl with cream, he looked at her with such loathing that she nearly dropped the bowl, but she maintained her grip on it, thankfully, and afterward she could imagine in her head the sight of the peachy milk splattered all over the green shag carpet in the living room of the rental house, afterward she could hear the dull thud of the bowl on the rug and the splat of peach flesh, afterward the sight and sound of the imagined transgression replayed itself in her mind over and over, and she almost went to him to apologize for the transgression, except that she remembered just in time that it hadn’t happened, except in some parallel universe, in some altered reality, but in this altered reality she had thrown the bowl – peaches and milk and cream – thrown the bowl against the wall behind his head and then demanded that he leave, that she have the house to herself, that she live her own life instead of the life he imposed upon her.  In that altered reality she savored the look of surprise on his face as she slammed the door shut on him.

There is a skin on peaches.  Surfaces serve their own purposes.

She walked and walked

She walked and walked after he died. She went further than she had ever gone when they were married, all the way to the university to the south and all the way to the bus station at the state park when she walked north.  She walked further than she would have thought possible, yet there it was.  Her feet took her there, even though she had only a vacant mind.   Vacant, which made her feel guilty; she should be thinking of him or remembering their times together, the firsts – so many firsts that were with him, her husband of forty years – but she did not.  The sky above was gray and white with clouds or dark with rain that winter.  At times the wind blew and she was glad of her heavy wool parka with its snug hood.  But she did not think of him, she did not think of anything.  The mind seemed to go with the feeet where the feet took her.  Sidewalks, street crossings, business districts with small shops, the dirt track in the state park.  Stoplights and traffic signs and bus shelters kept her company; she ticked them off with her mind’s eye as she passed them.

She was not alone on the street.  There were other walkers, mothers with a young child in a stroller, fathers with an infant in a front pack.  These were urban neighborhoods with families.  Occasionally a couple of kids on bicycles passed her.  If it was time for school to let out, clumps of kids might be waiting at the bus stop or heading home in pairs or singles.  She did not think of who they were or where they were headed, except to think of family life being the same everywhere, while being different from one house to the next.

She wore out one pair of sneakers, Brooks runners, and when she went to the athletic store to replace them, the twenty-something who helped her seemed familiar.  He asked if she wanted the same pair again, and she shrugged.  But then he said, “They’re always changing models,” and apologetically offered a choice of a couple of this year’s models that she might like instead.  “Every year it’s a new game, to them,” he said, with a wry smile.

She wondered if he was a runner.  Runners did not seem to understand walkers.  Running was a cast back to the days of humans on the savanna, she always thought, running from a predator or running in a hunt for meat to consume.  Walking was the way of the traveler, not the hunter.  Walking, things pass slowly, so you can see them go by, and out in some vast landscape like a desert or a grassy plain, she could imagine it never seemed to change.  You could walk for days and never feel like you were getting anywhere.  And that’s how it was with her walking.  She walked for days and never got anywhere, just back home to her place with nothing to show for it but worn-down shoes.

It was when he was ringing her up that he said, “Aren’t you Mrs. McIntye?”  She nodded automatically, then looked at him sharply.  “I’m sorry, I don’t -” she said, while at the same time he said, “I thought I recognized you.”

Recognition.  It is a thing that betrays us as well as reassures us.  We are recognized.  We are no longer faceless.  Someone recollects who we are.

She shook her head.  “You’re mistaken,” she said. She picked up her bag with the shoes and left the store.

It was hard.  It was too hard to think.

She could only walk.

Talking of Windows

astrangelyisolatedplace by Tourist. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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astrangelyisolatedplace by Tourist. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“Long before the auto came, I was here: / Since westering man first followed the sun, / I have come East with the stars.” – Julian Lee Rayford, “Thumb Tourist”

So many windows.  Bridget imagined the people who worked behind the windows, the diplomats and their staff who ranged along hallways and in and out of offices.  She thought about the desks, the copy machines and computers, the phones and cell phones that could make you smarter, or just feel that way.  The frenzied meetings, the brokered deals from one sovereign nation to another  Trade agreements.  Mutual protection pacts.

If only there were such arrangements for her marriage.  She could use a good solid trade agreement.  She could use a mutual protection pact.

Such things would come in handy.  But now Rob didn’t want the divorce, and that made it even harder on her.  She was just trying to live her life.  A trade agreement might have assured his affection after he stopped saying I love you.  A mutual protection pact might have prevented his hurling those terrible words at her in argument after argument.

But they were no diplomats.  Behind those windows lay a world of brokered agreements.  She and Rob had only the bond of marriage, which was not enough, as it turned out.

All those windows didn’t lie.  She had been a tourist in her own life up until now. It was time to move on.

The Long Grass of Summer

“light as the stroke of a branch – Sandra M. Gilbert, “Simplicity”

Simplicity lived in the long grass of summer.  The field mice and grasshoppers were her companions, and she wove huts of grass and dew for their families from the meadow to keep off the hot sun of July and August.  She sang to them at night so their little ones would fall asleep, and she breathed the morning breezes to wake them.  The soft fur of the mice tickled her cheeks when she came up close, and the delicate feelers of the grasshoppers played against her skin when she was nearby.  As long as the grass was tall she stayed in the meadow, the mice gathering seeds to store for winter, the grasshoppers eating their fill of the grass they lived in.

But on the autumn day when the grass was scythed, leaving only stubbly fields and earthy furrowed rows, Simplicity moved on.  Her winter was deep in the rocky mountains where she clambered with the mountain goats and dozed with the grizzly bears.  Simplicity made small weavings of the hair from the goats and the fur of the grizzlies.  She tucked the weavings into her pockets.

Light transported her.  She would dance in the lazy golden light of summer in the long grass and she would flow in the starkly white light of winter high in the mountains.  A hundred spheres shining.

The signs of spring came.  The melted sheen of glaciers and the chattering squall of icy streams.  Tiny green buds on the alpine flowers and bright sprigs on the boughs of evergreens.  It was time to go.

She arrived at the place of the long grass.  Or rather, what the long grass had become.  Fire had torn across the field in an early heat, charring the remains of stubbly stems, fire-blackening and crackling the few willows scattered across the fields.

Simplicity swept across the field, once, twice, thrice.  On the third sweep she reached into her pockets and let the goat- and bear-weavings float down onto the brittle remains of the long grass.  As she dropped the furry weavings, she breathed a long slow song for her friends the mice and the grasshoppers, an elegy for the insensible.

“Who keeps the owl’s breath? Whose eyes desire?   /  Why do the stars rhyme? Where does / The flush cargo sail? Why does the daybook close? / So sleep and do not sleep.” – David St. John, “Elegy”