- Check, Please, and: Contact High
Nobody ever said I’d have to be grateful forever. No one promised me perfection. I get it. I have four rules for getting out of situations: be the first, be ready to break, keep your mouth shut, [End Page 125] and dress warmly. I apply these to dreams about people from the past and to the crooked grass that shoots out of snow and gives up in the wind. I’m not going to remember forever, but I can try to keep lists, to send photos and bows and pieces of cake like starlight and hope. I can try to arrive. I don’t have to overtip, but I might. There are things I get to decide, like flame and reports and tablets. There are things from another planet. I’m not allowed to attach strings to those anymore. But who knows what’s going to make a difference? Hospitals, exam tables, the dark drip of reason. I get to decide when I’m grateful. Right? Here’s a quiz: What comes from God and what comes from surgery and what comes from luck? What time will you know? What time will the ice break on Lake Winnebago? When I sleep I’m still searching [End Page 126] for voices and supplements. When I look out this window I see snow-covered taxis and hydrants and couples, drenched mittens. Where are the keys? I don’t have to be told where to go.
One of those students who shows up so infrequently it’s as if when he does, he’s mistaken, seeking
correction and directions to some other classroom of the late. He might even bring in random homework
one day. It’s hard to tell. There are nights when the world tells you to be bad. There are nights when
all systems are gods. There is strange luck in the people who show up, who tell us we’re okay. [End Page 127]
I remember to be careful around guys like this. They don’t respond well to instruction. They don’t
like to be reminded. When in doubt, I keep my mouth shut. This isn’t my first time
on the bus, and the last time, we had a long detour through Detroit. Sometimes you have to keep driving
through all the blown tire shreds. There are walls along the freeways. There are bottles and tags and
skidmarks. Before I go in, I check my map. I check control and care and pity. The little stuff. [End Page 128]
Betsy Brown’s book Year of Morphines won the National Poetry Series. She lives in Minneapolis.