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Elegy for 39


It was the year we decided not

to get divorced. The poem

said something like clouds

moving quickly across the sun

while the rest of us talked about faith

and how my personal level of intensity

in faking it is one way to measure

the depth of the drop I’d have to make

before I could turn over in bed

toward a window open to the night

and spotty rain dotting leaves

with light caught from porch lamps

and know that what I’d imagined

to be time drained of sound

was the purest sound,

one person turning away from another

into a cone formed by his turning.

We sat on the porch while the kids napped

and watched light rise and fall

through clouds moving quickly across the sun

like distractions from a vital and complex truth

that requires too many pages of exegesis

for people with days like ours,

time’s version of an optical illusion,

both too long and too short

for anything like actual thinking.

I remember one of the many unsolicited

pieces of advice we got when Elmer

was coming along—don’t make any major

decisions until he’s one, you’ll be too

tired to get it right. So naturally

we changed jobs and moved across the country.

I can’t even remember who gave us that advice.

They’re probably out of our lives now.

And what’s in them, these six and something

years out of your forty and my almost

that we’ve been spinning through together,

watching our obligations mount

around sensations that folded out of us

from zones of our beings we hadn’t

seen before, like a third arm you’d

somehow failed to notice, an us

both alien and uncannily us,

children, a marriage, an unexpected love—

these things have taken over,

brushed aside whatever

was there before

like an anxious developer.

This force is of

our own making but comically

has no regard for us, like that arm

is a whole body, two bodies,

tugging us along wherever they feel like going,

the most dangerous places they can find.

I was writing that line on my phone

while following fifteen-month-old Harlan

doing his duck walk down a wheelchair ramp.

He leaned way over the side of it

to look at some smooth rocks on the ground

and, as I got to the word “dangerous,”

toppled down into them.

So much for art, some might say,

but not me, I just learned

how many people have put videos online

with the words “spectacular sunset” in their titles,

there’s one after another.

I’d made one myself, a video I mean,

because the sun had ducked

behind an unmoving cloud

at the horizon, and I knew from the internet

how long it would take the sun to reappear

in the gap between the bottom edge of the cloud

and the top edge of the earth,

a sun-sized gap dotted with its own

minor cloud variants

there to complicate the image,

a sun moving slowly behind clouds,

and I felt a low note being struck within,

something I’ve learned is not sadness

but gratitude in unknowing,

a feeling that is hard but porous,

that dissipates like short rain

steaming off its first idea of the ground.

Dark pink reformatting the blue,

dark pink lights of our forever car,

dark pink of hippies, dark pink life tassels,

dark pink “to fly,” as you put it,

“by the night of our pants.”

I don’t know where the night goes,

but I know we’ll be awake,

and why, this long year of nights

when people standing right next to us

broke in half and spilled everywhere

just because they paid attention.

We don’t have an exact date

for when we got engaged,

there was no moment, no single question

but instead weeks of them

while an idea changed from something we could do

into something we would, it was gestational,

like this year has been, a year I hope is over.

I’m glad you’re turning forty. I wish I were, too.

I need a number for what we’ve come through,

our second engagement, longer than the first,

permanent, in fact, the questions of questions

and the answer we give—

give, deny, and give again.

from To Literally You Find more by Paul Killebrew at the library

Copyright © 2017 Paul Killebrew
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Published in Paul Killebrew Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.