|Jan/Feb 2010 Poetry|
It began with coffee pots
lids, baskets, and percolators—
large pots and a factory promotion came later
despite fraternal warnings about fast work
and piece counts.
I didn't move to Chilton
so much as wait to move away.
The insistence of my work ethic
an expression of my need to pay
the rent on a downtown house
where I could walk to visit you at the hospital.
On my third application I finally lied.
Any mention of seasonal work was left out
so the floor boss could reassure the union
he wasn't hiring part-timers.
Like everyone else in town
he recognized the scars on my face
wanted me to find work.
He had just been waiting
you suggested years later
for me to read between the lines.
Your bridal shower would have been
April 18, 1970.
We drove the "ORD" all night
from Milwaukee towards Green Bay
(always on the lookout for an "F"
to replace the missing one on the trunk).
You in the front seat
my sister, also Kathy
in the back with Biblio
a friend's dog she'd volunteered
to watch for the weekend.
The police refused to believe
we hadn't been drinking:
it had been a simple cocktail
of long hours in the study hall
followed by late dinner.
The insurance company was disappointed—
sober college kids are the exception
which means settlements must be paid
(how peculiar that the down payment on our first house
should be the result of your agency litigating mine).
You arrived in a hearse
because Chilton was too small
for an ambulance.
In my own hospital room
after the accident
I wondered about Biblio (he was, after all
the only reason I could ever remember the word library
in Spanish) about my sister Kathy
sleeping in the front seat.
Sometimes, when I'm shaving, a piece of glass
works its way out. I cradle it in my hand
sing it to sleep.
Sometimes, you don't remember to wake up
until you've hit a tree.
The only one belted in was me—
minus a shoulder strap to prevent
collision with the steering wheel.
In the break room, a few play cards
but there isn't much need for talk
among tired men. I eat bologna sandwiches
and drink Mt. Dew to keep myself alert.
This work is my meditation—
I hear only the thump-pop
of the aluminum press, the whir of belts
and the quick sound of the wrist guards' snap
returning my compliant hands
to relative safety at my side.
This machine is my rosary—
I see that spot, and the tree
somewhere between here
and Hilbert on Highway 57,
in the pressed reflective bottom
of each piece of cookware.
Traction made it clear
you wouldn't be renting
any room other than 117.
We rescheduled our wedding plans
enlisted hospital staff as attendants.
your first roommate
your maid of honor
checked in for lung cancer
Technically, of course, she was a matron
but we never met her husband.
the physical therapist
whose mother was your nurse
my best man.
The entire hospital staff as witnesses,
lurk happily in your doorway.
Mrs. Schmedelkauffer offered sage advice
we saved as our favorite present:
Never go to bed angry.
Vivian, the young nurse,
I can't remember her last name
inspired you to go back to school,
baked our cake and found a knife.
"Don't look so worried," she said,
"it didn't come from surgery."
some days it feels as though
we are collecting sevens:
the number of roommates
with whom you shared
room number 117
the number printed on the highway marker
next to the tree
the date we were married
(21 is a seven
the date in April
when I fell asleep last—
don't think for a moment
that a seminary boy like me hasn't noticed
seven is the number of Extreme Unction
On the way back to the apartment
I stop for detergent.
Aluminum cakes my body
clings to every hair.
The landlady asked me again last night
to scrub the stain of grey dust
from the porcelain of the bathtub.