Memory Loss

Sunset over Lake Parker VT

As soon as I heard it I was taken over with sadness. I had to stop running and just cry. It was the kind that shoots up, as if from a deep, dank well and overwhelms. The feeling was of losing something, and a hopeless, endless searching.

I was listening to a podcast of an interview about Alzheimer’s, about a mile into my run. <You can listen to it here> In it, a psychologist who works with Alzheimer’s patients was talking about how there are often glimpses of wisdom, even when a person has forgotten much of their lives, and lost the ability to recall the simplest words. He spoke of telling such a patient that he was going on vacation to the beach. They had spoken of their mutual love of the ocean before and when he mentioned it, she lit up. He asked her what she loved about the beach, knowing she probably wouldn’t be able to articulate much of anything but then she said, “There’s some kind of music that lives there.” That was the line that broke me.

My daughter Frances, like me, often loses things. She will call out, “Mommy! Can you help me find my purple marker? I can’t find it anywhere.” Even if I’m annoyed at having to stop what I’m doing, I try to help her because I want her to learn how to look for things. I ask her: Where did you last have it? When did you use it, or see it, or loan it to someone? Usually she misremembers and we look in the wrong places until I start looking everywhere and find it under the bed sheets or by the toilet. Then she remembers, astonished, “Oh yea! I left it there!”

I learn, from the podcast, that memory is more complex than previously thought. We think of our memories as fixed, stored in a certain file within our brains. We are so sure of them we will argue with family members about what really happened decades ago. But memories are not just the stories we tell ourselves are true. Memory is what we are made of. And memories change as we age, and as information is introduced. Memories are pieced together from various elements, stored in multiple parts of the brain and even in muscle tissue, which is why they change as we change.

Yesterday the cat wandered off from the backyard and Frances was distraught. The cat has never disappeared for long, but Frances lay in her bed weeping until I persuaded her that looking for Tabitha would alleviate her anxiety. Help me find her, I implored, and calling the cat relaxed her, and Tabitha turned up.

That awful feeling of having lost something so essential as a pet, or a wallet, or a purple marker, can make one lose all perspective. It can send me into a tailspin that feels impossible to escape, until the thing is found. The idea of getting Alzheimer’s is terrifying to me, like losing something you can’t function without, but not realizing that your memories, therefor your self, is what’s missing.

Sometimes I dream I am back in art school. It’s always the same dream. I’m my age now, and should have graduated with everyone years ago, but instead I am wedded to the campus because of a mysterious missing credit. I take class after class, trying to find the one that will get me out.

It was like that dream, as I stood heaving on the trail, lost in the feeling of being lost, as if the right information will get me where I want to go. I was distraught, like Frances, that I may never find it. A lost memory of something so critical it would change me completely once found.

That over powering sense of loss and the fear of an endless searching had me trembling and I let it for several moments. Then I continued running and it dawned on me that the missing piece may be just a phantom. Maybe it’s just the memory of losing something that was crucial long ago. Or maybe, like the music at the beach, it’s something else that will always be there, even after I’m gone.

 

 

Fiction: The Hunter, Part 1

lion tracks.pdf

She sits very still, elbows propped on knees. Flies land and crawl on her arms and legs but she doesn’t move. They have been biting her for hours. The lenses of her binoculars have become wet with her sweat as she waits.

The air, heavy and hot, presses the hair on her limbs flat, striping her as perspiration runs down. She hopes the tall grass is hiding her sufficiently. Her hat is behind her, floating crooked on brittle stalks. The sun is now behind the maple making the hat unnecessary and distracting. She lowers the binoculars and listens. As the sun drops the birdsong rises. The catbird’s shrill meows from the maple overhead compete with the rising gallop of the ovenbird from the forest to her right. A small black and yellow bird flashes in front of her and up into the branches. Magnolia warbler she thinks, idly tuning her ears for its high-pitched calls. Other warblers sound in the distance and she picks them off in her mind by their complex singing. Blackburnian, chestnut-sided, and yellow-rumped are the obvious ones.

Later the sky is turning a deep cerulean and the wind dies into sudden silence. The leaves of the maple, oak and birch trees around her don’t move and the birds seem to freeze. The grass perks up and there is nothing flying overhead. No sound of distant farm equipment, which can travel for miles with the right wind. No voices. In the stillness she feels the hair on the back of her neck lift, as if one at a time standing at attention. Her ears, trained for years to discern every sound of these woods scan the empty decibels for a clue to the direction she should look. Slowly, she lifts the binoculars back to her eyes. The temperature has dropped enough for her sweat to dry into a thin crust. The eyepiece is warm, instead of hot, against her eye sockets.

Inch by inch she scans the edges of the forest and the blurred line of the grass for a sign. She hasn’t seen any deer or moose all day, which could mean the lion is near, or that lion and prey are miles away. But the hairs on her neck are up, and the dream was a clear sign that today is the day. She knows her prints, her scat, her claw marks on pine bark. She knows this cat like she knows her own fingernails. But they have yet to meet.

Fiction: Performance Art

SilverCurtain

When I was ushered into the eating area by the young gallery assistant in gold Fendi platform sandals and a long silver tunic, her hair a sleek black panel pressed against her back, I looked furtively at the place cards for my name. I found it, thankfully next to Charles’ at one of the outlying tables amidst lesser collectors no doubt. We were used to being the token artists invited to entertain them. Too bad I’m not very entertaining anymore. I’ve long outgrown my appetite for shocking audiences, but apparently not my reputation.

So I was surprised when I sat down later that my husband and I were sitting at the table with both the artists in the show, Raymond, who is an important curator, and the gallery owner, Jeremy. One of the artists was in town from Brooklyn, a painter whose canvases were strewn with images from current media, an epic visual barrage of the daily news. I can’t say I liked them. They were ugly and cynical. The other artist was Ash. When we were in school together she changed her name from Ashley. It was a shortening she had refused as a kid, but as a BFA candidate she was eager to trade a flowery, much too common name for an edgy reference to fire and smoke.

Ash was one of those people who would obviously be a big deal someday. She had an aura of importance and strategic planning. We were smoking pot in her studio one night and I was complaining about someone in the MFA program when she said, very seriously, “You should be nice to everyone May, because you never know who’s going to make it.”

I remember being surprised that she was thinking that far ahead when I was the older MFA candidate and all I was concerned about were the costumes for my next extravaganza. I needed a truck load of pink tulle, and a new piercing somewhere.

Ash wasn’t looking at me. She was talking to Charles, being polite. Raymond was next to her, the curator who had recently been forced to resign at the museum because the new director was an ass. Raymond was probably making twice his former salary as a consultant, and Charles said there were several galleries trying to get him on their team. Raymond was talking to the guy at the end of the table, a man I didn’t know but whose casual suit and Rolex watch gave him away. Ash was just waiting for Raymond to pay attention to her.

I tried to get her attention. I wanted to say something intelligent about her show but I couldn’t think of anything. The paintings were meditations on organic forms in delicate symmetrical patterns that were stunning but seemingly vacuous. I was either missing the important part or there wasn’t one and nobody cares. To have her first show be in such a major gallery was just more proof of her birthright to success, and I was jealous. The show was much better than the guy from Brooklyn’s, even if it wasn’t very deep. I could tell a winner when I saw one, and I guess most people can.

I had the feeling she couldn’t be bothered with me anymore. Maybe it was the fact that I married one of our professors as soon as I graduated. Charles is fifteen years older and everyone thought I was trying to get somewhere but the truth is I had no control. We were crazy in love and we resisted it for a long time until we couldn’t anymore. We did the right thing, waited until I graduated and then surrendered to married life even though it wasn’t what either of us planned. We knew it would likely damage our careers and it probably has, but we’re happy. One day we’ll have kids and be a typical family.

I watched Ash talk. Her long sinewy arms were barely visible behind the sheer white blouse she wore but I could see them twitching. Her arms were always in motion, even if it was almost imperceptible as she listened to you talk. It was as if they’d always rather be pushing paint.

I wanted to know two things: Why we had been moved to the important artists’ table, and if we were still friends. I’d given up texting her when I graduated and she started the MFA program. If we ran into each other at an opening she would apologetically say she was busy all the reading and trying to get work done in the studio.

Jeremy made a joke about how much he hates public speaking as he stood up at the end of our table clinking his glass with a spoon. I watched Ash’s face as he gushed over her paintings and glanced over at the other artist (was he called George?) who was doing a good job of pretending not to notice she was taking up more real estate in the dealer’s speech than she was in the gallery.

Ash was flushed after Jeremy sat down and Raymond finally turned to her saying he knows a young curator at the Pompidou who she should meet. It was hard to watch her. She’s only twenty-five but she was acting like some confident mid-career artist who has had millions of conversations like this before. There was no sign of excitement or eagerness. Her eyes were slightly glazed, as if she wasn’t interested at all. It was the same look I got from wealthy collectors when I used to work at the front desk in a gallery before I went back to school. They kept their eyes focused just over your head, making sure you knew your status was far below theirs. I’ve never gotten used to that look. Never been able to play that game. Those were the walls I was trying to knock down with my obnoxious performance art.

Ash and I used to joke about how superficial the art world can be and how stupid certain collectors are, buying up whatever some slick dealer or art consultants tells them to buy. We went to visit a huge private collection once in Bel Air when we were still in school. One of our teachers had finagled it and we made fun of everything. There were amazing minimalist and pop art pieces all crammed in together with some of the crappiest paintings from the nineties you’ve ever see. We laughed out loud when we saw a painting by one of our professors hung sideways. But here she was, reaching across the table, practically flirting with the guy at the end, the man with the Rolex who was complimenting her paintings without saying anything about them. He lacked the vocabulary you only acquire by going to art school, or obsessively reading art magazines.

She looked amazing in her white ruffled blouse. She had on some incredibly expensive looking cream-colored slacks and white leather booties that worked perfectly with them. Her hair was lighter than it used to be, and like the young gallery assistant, she wore it long and it flowed sculpture-like, bending over one shoulder into a curl that resembled a seashell below her breast. She was like a bleached mermaid, as whitewashed as her ephemeral paintings hanging upstairs.

The servers were clearing our plates when Raymond and Jeremy got up from the table and the collector disappeared. Only the two artists, me and Charles and the other artists’ wife were still sitting at our table. I had a feeling Ash was just waiting for someone important to sit next to her and try to talk her into doing a project with them. She had worked hard to get where she was and I respected that. But I hated her confidence. I was jealous of the fact that she was born with it.

I had no idea how long the window would last but this was my chance. I stared at her until her eyes couldn’t resist mine and smiled big. “Congratulations Ash. It’s a beautiful show.” She smiled the same gracious smile she had been doling out all evening. I had to get to her. I had to know if we were still friends or if I was just a there to be stepped over. “I feel so lucky to be sitting here,” I said, trying to sound light. “I thought we were destined for the boonies.” She lifted one corner of her mouth into a half smile, half smirk as her eyes grazed the table behind me. “Ash, remember when we were driving up to your Dad’s place in the central valley and broke down on the five?” Her eyes opened up and I noticed how perfectly pruned her eyebrows had become. She used to not care how bushy they were. Had she bleached them?

“Why yes!” She answered. What was with the why yes? Was she from 1950? Her eyes were so wide it was like she had practiced opening them that big. In school, her eyes were always sleepy and soft, as if she was only half awake, and her hair was a disheveled mess. “I remember how freaked out you were,” she added laughing and really looking at me for the first time. Her eyes were intoxicating. The blue was so clear and deep they made me want to swim. Somehow they made me understand everything. There was something in her that elicited pure desire. I wanted her. I wanted to be her. I always had. I saw through our friendship as my own greed for a piece of what she had. What she saw in me I wasn’t sure. “That was right before my Dad died,” she said without a hint of sadness. “That was a crazy trip,” and her eyes were moving again, glancing around for something better. She was finished with me, and our moment of reminiscing. A good-looking man in a beautiful suit the color of the ocean was sliding into the seat next to her, and I still had no idea why I was there.

Fiction: Sleepless in Vermont

nara

Yoshitomo Nara: cosmic girl-open eyes closed eyes

2 a.m. January 15, 1997

Can’t sleep. The moon is throwing it’s annoyingly beautiful long shadows across the room, which never happened back home, but here, nature has a way of inserting itself into every moment of my life. Sometimes, I like it. I like watching the patterns the sun makes through the trees riding the bus to school. And last summer a hummingbird let me rescue it. It was caught in the shed, banging its beak against the window pane and I stood there with my finger outstretched, speaking softly to calm him as I watched his increasingly frenetic attempts to penetrate the glass and offered to carry him to the open door just on the other side of the shed which he had apparently no way to find on his own. Eventually he landed on my finger, exhausted and gripped my skin with his tight claws. When I reached the doorway and showed him the great expanse of open air, trees and light he didn’t take off. Instead, he looked at me, and waited. It wasn’t until I stepped out onto the gravel where we park the cars and wiggled my finger that he seemed to find the strength or maybe the courage to fly. He flew up and went straight to the bird feeder for a long sip. I was glad that Susan put it up and kept it filled. Then he flew right back to me, hovered in front of my face for a long moment before heading up to the maples. That moment made me very happy and I think of it often in these cold winter days that end so abruptly. The moon shadows only wash across my floor with their luminescent beauty in winter but somehow they always make me sad.

I tried getting back to the dream that woke me up, but couldn’t. Mom was still alive and we were talking our usual wordless way. In the dream I was in bed, visualizing her in the hospital, her body like a thinning approximation of the vibrant life it once held. The persistent beep of the heart monitor and the wary rhythm of the respirator were going and I remembered, this time, how important they had seemed back then; the only indicators the body they were attached to was a living human being. But even though she was brain dead, at least that was how Dad always put it, she and I had no problem communicating.

In the dream, it was just like it had been in real life. The conversation began with the slow reenactment of the accident. It was as if our minds were one, plugging into the scene, the complex layering of sound. Sharp crack of glass shattering; metal screeching in hollow cries; and the deadening dull thud of impact crushing her instantly, a strange cry as her body reacted, the near extinguishing of her soul until it was tied to her body by a fine filament, no stronger than a human hair. In those days I thought she needed to start there because it was her last moment as a full human being. But in the dream there was another reason, an important piece of the puzzle. But now I don’t remember what it was.

 

New Normal

WelcomeToFuture

I can think of three times in my life when I have felt I might float away. One was the day I got married. Another was giving birth to my daughter Keirnan, and the third was just the other night.

I was lucky enough to be asked to talk about my work and how I deal with grief to a group of women. Some of them had experienced childbearing losses while others were there to support their friends. I had planned to talk about my book, Dancing with the Midwives, and how writing it got me through the grieving process so miraculously. But instead, I ended up talking about the idea of normalizing grief, death and illness.

As I started to speak I noticed a few things were happening to me physically. First of all I was extremely warm. I had been sweating all evening and had already changed my shirt twice, even though everyone else felt the room was a little cool. I felt a very slight tremble throughout my body as I spoke, particularly in my jaw and hands. It was a bit bizarre, to feel that much energy swirling around, literally making me feel as if it was lifting me out of my seat, while trying to talk. In order to stay present I gripped a large piece of black tourmaline, known for its grounding properties, and kept my eyes on the floor. The sensations were not unpleasant or all that strange because I knew that for me, it’s normal to feel that way when I’m in the midst of a life-changing event. Exactly how talking about my book might change my life is unclear. But then again, I had no idea what I was in for when I got married or had Keirnan either.

I had not exactly planned what I would say and I had about fifteen minutes so I just said what came to mind. I talked about being a kid when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and how my parents tried to keep our lives “normal” by not talking too much about it. Their choice made it easier to ignore her illness, but it made the shock of her death much harder. I felt she never said goodbye to me, and that they had kept me in the dark.

The truth is, my parents did try to talk to me about what was happening, but I wouldn’t listen. They were not experts in grief and they didn’t consult a therapist the way many people today probably would. But if they had, I think a therapist would have encouraged them to gently push me to talk about my mother’s illness before she died, to be realistic about her prospects of survival and to try and talk about what might happen after she died.

The normalcy of death and illness was something my parents took for granted. They grew up in the nineteen thirties and forties, they both knew many people who died, including their own parents. So for them, death was normal but it wasn’t supposed to be talked about. You were expected to grieve for a short time in private. This model doesn’t fit our society today and it didn’t fit back in the nineteen-seventies either. I had hardly experienced death when my mother died. I thought everyone lived to be an old man like my grandfather.

Today, the task of normalizing grief can be accomplished simply by communicating openly about it. We can still grieve in private, but we need to ignore the impulse to keep our feelings a secret, or hide them from our loved ones, colleagues and children, or the idea that we must “move on” quickly, as though grief is a short-lived project. We need to create spaces and places like the one I had the opportunity to be a part of, where people come together to talk about their experiences, to share their grief, to express it and to be heard. This is the new normal. Or at least it should be.

Now that I am middle aged and cancer seems to be everywhere, many more people around me are dealing with grief and facing illnesses more frequently. But child-bearing grief still makes most people very uncomfortable. If you have not experienced that kind of loss, you might feel unable to deal with it, or support those who are going through it. We can all help, by talking and being open, not just among adults but with our children, by speaking honestly about what happened when a friend or a relative becomes ill or dies suddenly. We need to learn to talk about it as if it’s normal, because it is.

Fiction: President’s Day

FrancesJump.sm

Finley has lost her sock under the bed. I crouch down, hands and knees against the hardwood, to see it. It’s there, pink and fluffy, all the way at the other end, where king-size bed meets wall. There is also a brown smudge. Long, and straight. “What the heck is that?” I say aloud.

“What?” she asks.

“Never mind.”

I go to the kitchen and put water on for tea. Pull out the mixing bowl and start cracking eggs. I promised them crepes and I don’t go back on these sorts of promises, though I should. Finley has a cough, and a temperature. We are staying home on this President’s day though we are all disappointed to miss the birthday party with the George Washington impersonator. Last year it was Abe Lincoln and he was wonderful. Gave a satirized Gettysburg Address in full costume and the seven and eight year old crowd was surprisingly rapt. They loved it.

How much flour?

I’ve made crepes a hundred times but I can never remember how much flour to how many eggs. The recipe is on my computer which is by the king-size bed. It’s on the floor, next to the bed where I leave it most of the time. I look under the bed again at the long dark streak. Yuck. It’s cat poop. Yesterday there was a smear of poop in the hallway and I had looked around for more when I cleaned it, but not under the bed. But for the last few nights I have smelled cat poop as I go to bed. Maybe this mess has been there for days, right under my nose.

I push the bed away from the wall and there is the long straight smudge of shit. I can’t imagine how the cat managed it. There is no room under the bed for the maneuver that would create such a mark. I head back to the kitchen to get gloves, towels and cleaner. The butter is sizzling in the pan. I  forgot that I started the pans. Why would I do that before the batter is made? I turn off the burners. The water is boiling. I pour the tea. The eggs are sitting in the bowl. Flour and milk are on the counter. How much? Where is my computer? Whoops. Forgot to get it.

The bed startles me, pushed up that way against the dresser. I have to go around it to get the computer. There is the smudge. I will deal with that later. Why is my life such  a mess? Why can’t I get it together?

2 cups of flour. 2 cups of milk. 5 eggs. I mix the batter. I start the pans. I will clean up cat shit later. Focus on one thing. Focus.

“Mommie! I’m hungry!”

“I’m working on it Fin!”

 

 

 

Dance Dance Dance

deerdrawingsm pigeon.sm

This week I am preparing for a show and feverishly combing through my manuscript for typos. I am busy! But I have also been thinking a lot about how dancing is my next move.

Just before a show, I always have feelings of dread that the work isn’t good enough. It’s just my brain doing its retarded dance, the one about how I’m not a very good artist or writer (or singer or dancer for that matter). Since I have been through this many times I know all I have to do is have a dance-off with my thoughts and win. Just keep pushing forward, trusting there are reasons I am doing things the way I do them, and that even if the work is only for my benefit that’s still good enough. Step-step-twirl.

My show is about exchanging with nature. I am drawing animals that I have run into in ways that hint at the stories behind the sightings. I want the show to inspire people to think about nature in a way that is more about communication than observation. When I sent out the invitation a few friends immediately wanted to share their own encounters with wild animals, which means the idea is working. I have had long back and forth emails about our neighbors the raccoons, bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions, and how cool it is that we get to see these creatures on rare occasions.

Thinking about exchange has me thinking about dancing. When I talk about exchanging with nature, it’s really more than hiking, camping and gardening. It’s about being open. Being aware that there is an ongoing conversation with the world around me that is constantly shaping my life. Recently I’ve been hearing the word dance everywhere I turn. I heard a story about a guy with chronic back problems (like me) who cured himself by dancing. An astrologer told me years ago I needed to make dance a priority. I have recently been invited to see a lot of dance performances and every time I see people dancing on stage I know it’s time for me to dance. I have been exercising a lot the last few years, but dancing is different. Its about letting your body and mind go at the same time. It requires making dozens of quick decisions based on somatic feelings and senses and committing to them. It’s about freedom, permission, and not worrying if I am good enough to be doing it.

On Sunday my daughter Frances and I put on our favorite music and danced around the house until we were sweating. I tried to completely let loose, the way she does. When she said, “Mom! You’re going crazy!” I knew I was doing okay. I am trying to convince her to take dance classes with me, but even if she won’t, I am going to start doing it on my own. Right after my show. I’m so excited!

 

Fiction: Mrs. Calderone

buzzards.sm

Water is good. Rain is good. Clean and clear are good.

She remembers these things, looking out the window at the broken stubble that was once a lush lawn. Brown. Dry. Dusty. Trash accumulates at the edges. Plastic discs that line the tops of paper cups that people drink something from. Pop? Is that the word? She can’t remember. Can’t remember who she is. Where she is. She anchors herself in thoughts. Clear observations stem the tide of memories that make her nervous because they don’t fit.

She takes a drink. Water is good.

She wants to ask a question but it keeps eluding her, a shimmery thought, out of reach. Something about her daughter, whose name she can’t recall. She knows she has a daughter because she comes to visit most days and says, “I am your daughter” and she remembers her face. And she remembers the feeling of having a daughter. But she can’t find the word. The question she wants to ask.

The nurse comes over and arranges the shawl around her shoulders.

“Feeling all right Mrs. Calderone?” the nurse asks. She hates how they call her that. It’s an unfamiliar name. Her name was much prettier. A flower maybe or something that made you think of flowers. Calderone makes her afraid. It makes her think of a man and getting punched. She looks out the window again, at the dry trash, not answering. She has to stay on track, sifting for the question she had about her daughter. She wonders if the question could be answered by her daughter and if she’s coming today.

That’s it. She yells it out, before it disappears.

“Is she coming today?”

The nurse, already across the room turns, slightly startled.

“Who?”

“My daughter! Is she coming today?”

Cupcakes and Ladybugs

GandFBlowCandles

The best part about celebrating my daughter Keirnan’s birthday was almost forgetting to. I had programmed the day into my phone a while ago, after missing it for the past few years. It would just pass by without my thinking about it. Sometimes I would ask Dave, “When IS Keirnan’s birthday?” and he would always remember it. January 25, 2005. I finally punched it in to my list of family dates.

Yesterday, which was the 25th, I was driving with Frances who is eight now, and my phone alerted me with the ominous church bell sound. “How old would she be?” Frances asked. “Nine,” I replied, not thinking very hard. 2005…2015. “Ten!” Oh my God it’s been ten years. How the hell did that happen?

Of course it makes sense. Keirnan was still born a year and nine months before Frances came. I don’t feel badly about having forgotten her day in the past. I only remember my mother’s birthday every few years now. It’s a sign that she has taken her rightful place in my memories, bringing up feelings of love and sadness, not piercing pain. Time really is the best healer.

Still, a tear was working its way up and out of the corner of my eye as I thought about the impact Keirnan has had on my family. How Frances, sitting beside me might not have been born and my books, certainly would not have been written.

“Mom there’s a ladybug on my window!” Frances was pointing to a little black and red dot on the outside of the car and I was making a left turn, trying not to be distracted by the synchronicity. I immediately thought of the second story in the book about Keirnan, where I discover a deformed ladybug on my leg. Frances hit the button to make the window go down and the ladybug was riding down with it. “Frances! Put it back up!” I was afraid the tiny beetle would be demolished. We both watched as she scrambled against the force of the window meeting the rubber at the bottom, but by the time Frances had reached for the button again, the window was down and the ladybug, undeterred, was waltzing inside. We laughed hard as we watched her crawl down the door panel, relieved not to have killed her.

When we got home I spent the rest of the day in the kitchen making a delicious dinner, and Frances and I made an enormous batch of cupcakes that would easily feed all of our neighbors. It felt good to celebrate the girls’ missing sister, just like we used to in the early months and years of her absence. Ten years goes too fast, but we had a lovely party, just the four of us, lighting candles and blowing them out.

 

Missing Person

EmptyBench

Apologizing, I say: I didn’t know him

Say it to myself, to others

To avoid any obligation

of doing something

People are meditating, praying

Memorializing the man (I say) I didn’t know

 

Actually I did

Because I listened

When he read

And he heard me too

We told our stories

Gave away the most recessed secrets

 

Sometimes we sang

Matt sang more than anyone

He sounded professional

Even over the phone

So I did know him. Matt Ahern

I just never shook his hand

 

In the days after he kept

Popping in

Like, Oh yea. That happened.

My mind trying to grip his slippery nonexistence

Because we never met

It was hard to remember

 

A long time ago, my friend died suddenly

A young artist

Much too young

She broke a thousand hearts

Made us fear death anew

Our own, and being forgotten

 

But we don’t forget

Those

who, unlike the rest of us living,

are suddenly plucked

Carelessly, as a slender flower in a child’s fat fingers

They become Big

 

A skiing accident put Wendy in a coma

For weeks hundreds prayed, calling in for updates

Her tenuous hold on life became

A big balloon we stared at, hoping

But on the eve of her thirtieth birthday

She floated up instead

 

Wendy taught me to love her absence and

The fleeting texture of flesh and blood, dirt and water

Like Matt, she used to Pop in, unexpected

Reminding me she was there

Here

As much as I am

in any moment