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Prairie Schooner 80.3 (2006) 20-25

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Six Poems for Tim, 1964–2004


When I remember the call it is not the call
I think of, that after all
was a matter of fiber optics and cochlea,
the drum, the hammer and all that
not much understood nor wondered at.
No. What I recall
is a night in Sussex several years before,
cutting it pretty close for the London train,
Dolly driving, chatting of antiques,
not a lot of traffic,
just the narrow road curve after curve,
hawthorn thicket dense hill after hill,
and dark;
when into the beam the badger leapt
from claw to claw as long as the car was wide,
haunch parallel to the road, the black eye slashed
underneath in black, turning with seeming purpose
to stare in mine,
the drum
just before the jolt
to the underbelly
rising in my bowels;
the badger leaping, already surely dead,
out of the beam to the dark on the other side. [End Page 20]
We were hammered hard
enough to skew us into oncoming traffic,
but there was no traffic,
only the country road
winding downhill toward the London train
already slowing into Lewes Station
that would take me shaking to Victoria
and parts unknown –
no option in the altered world
but to leave you where you had already
leapt with seeming purpose claw to claw
into the thorn-dark wood
on the other side.


The scuppernong has covered the pergola
entirely, hand over hand from beam to beam,
turning its leafy lifeline to the sun,
fisting, and leaving behind a brassy bullet
to burst sweet, sour, and viscous on the tongue.

Death is no bigger than a scuppernong
in the mouth of its own making. Now, my palate
engorged, I eat your share: the tough skin
and the bitter seeds spat out time after time,
your mouth being full of the earth of Africa. [End Page 21]


I keep stepping on the ugly nap
of all our local comings and disappearings;
dingy – yellow, is it? – or I suppose
they call it "gold," with, surely, "garnet" flowers
or suns, whatever, and so do the tired arrivals
with their carry-ons, and the pickers-up
in their tanks and wrinkled shorts
and their carryings-on, the helium balloons
and welcome signs;
and us in our wrinkled shorts, already tired
to death of the, welcome, however, visitor –
he is not unwelcome, whoever he is, or she –
over the same carpet, from the same planes,
to the same luggage endlessly riding round
and round the creaking carousel.
         And you,
arriving every time with him or her,
arriving every time
on your bouncing step
over the golden not-so-dingy-then,
and the luggage smelling leather-fresh,
and the carousel fresh-installed,
and your helium eyes
and your careless grin
into the wrinkled arms of my
welcome home. [End Page 22]


But since we always said we shared this body –
blue eyes, lumbar glitch, thick, quick to heal –
I thought I'd let you know how far you've foiled
our DNA: the thinning hair, the bloody

high pressure, the arthritis that comes and goes,
the bone spurs in the joints, the hammertoe
on the right foot (your Uncle Stan has got it too),
not to mention the yet-to-come disease:

the cancer that felled my Granddad, or my Dad's
attacking heart, Aunt Jessie's broken hip –
all of it off your radar with one blip
or "brain laceration" as the record said,

from the one bullet (we'll always have to ask:
Did you just take that chance, or were you certain
you needed only one?) – how it careened
from your thick hair to the curtain, the breaking glass,

which perhaps you heard, as perhaps your mind
changed its last will: Let me have those, not this. [End Page 23]


Understand: it's not that there's nothing else.
There's plenty else.
There are scuppernongs in August,
and apple pie – don't flatter yourself because
you're not in the kitchen peeling
the house...


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pp. 20-25
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