Just north of Hartville, Ohio, where I drove today,
thick woods opened out to fields and cattle pastured
down to the lake. My mind was full of lists
of meetings, picking up medication and dry cleaning,
when suddenly for no reason, I was remembering
the time Lynn bought my lunch when
I had money enough to pay for my own, but because
she didn’t know what to say to my grief,
she said I want to buy your lunch,
and it was expensive and good and I was grateful,
which made me think of Sandra whom I haven’t seen in years,
walking beside the Willamette in Portland
in the cold sleet of a November night.
Nothing happened. We walked two city blocks
talking pleasantly about nothing in particular,
then she asked me if I wanted to borrow her gloves.
One afternoon, thirty years ago or more,
in my makeshift office in the Cathedral of Learning
with no furniture but a view of the Heinz Chapel spire
dark with rain and city grime, Ed stuck his head in the door
and said It’s a little alienating, isn’t it?
I wasn’t sure if he meant Pittsburgh, or teaching,
the view, or life in general, but they all were,
and who would have thought I would remember
this so clearly for all these years?
In December 1971 I was visiting Jane Bennett in
California, Pennsylvania, where I called my father
from a wooden phone booth in a drugstore.
He was three days away from his death,
alone in his apartment, aphasic from the strokes.
I told him I love you, and he said
You’re right. Those were his last words to me.
Sometimes when the years come close like this
everything that happened once seems to have been
happening forever: someone is putting cold cloths on my head
because it hurts, someone is sitting on the edge
of my bed where I am a fevered child in another world
far beyond hearing. Today I was only busy,
but when Anna touched my shoulder and told me
Take a little nap, you’re exhausted, I could see I was,
so I lay down heavily, like the bales of hay
the good farmer of Hartville pitched out for his stock,
because the ground is frozen solid,
because the weeds are iced with hoarfrost.
And like the cattle,I ambled over the cold field
to take whatever might be offered now
from the flat bed of the mostly reliable wagon.
Copyright © 2017 Maggie Anderson
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.