The idea is to brush up on essentials.
We learn how little we know.
We worry how wobbly we’d be.
We laugh a lot for obvious reasons:
We are not making merry, merely trying to cope.
We stall in the second, practical, part
where ribs crack, consumption re-emerges undigested,
and unspeakable things happen to children.
Walking out into the early dark
towards cars, trains, bikes (all ominous now)
we all of us envisage our own personal worst horrors:
Kids, or that neighbour you really can’t stand.
Back home, trying to unwind
I listen to the words again:
Recovery position. Heimlich manoeuvre.
Hemiplegia. I like that I know the words.
The Subaru next door sports two Obama-Biden stickers, one for ’08, one for the second term. Across the gravel yard of the lodge, there’s a Chevrolet with another message: “Somebody please put the constitution on his teleprompter.” Beyond the yard, Utah table mountains stand red in a clear blue sky, much like they have done for millenia. Below, the Colorado river flows on.
On the left hand side we see a big billboard that says “Jesus is Lord”. Then there is a small rocky outcrop before the dwelling around it reaches all the way to the highway again. There is another billboard, equally big. Here, a local shop wishes to attract passing tourists. The massive legend reads “Exit now!”
The waitress at Mel’s Drive-in on Sunset Boulevard talks to customers who are clearly also friends – about customers who were in before and who were just customers. She relates to her more intimately acquainted current patrons how the former visitors attempted to purchase a well-known Spanish drink usually made of red wine and fruit pieces, but insisted on receiving a concoction adapted according to their own devising. Upon hearing the requested ingredients, the waitress apparently expressed surprise. In her words: “So these guys ordered all this stuff in their Sangria AND I WAS LIKE WHAT?!”
I want to say “AND I WAS LIKE WHAT?!” more! Come on life, give me the moments to do so!
This, she does not know:
He has had this conversation before,
during three consecutive
morning showers at least.
Once soap got into his mouth
since he was ranting so wildly.
Bitter taste for bitter words.
This, he does not know:
She has had this conversation before,
with two colleagues, one neighbour, as well as,
if truth be told, her daughter’s teddy bear.
The neighbour she met at the shops
between the chocolates and the cookies.
Sweet tastes for sweet revenge.
When they have the ‘clarifying talk’,
they come armed to the teeth
but quickly find the misunderstanding,
and a little fault each in their own actions
and thus, truce, far too quickly.
They part shaking hands, if not kissing cheeks.
Their massive and ready guns are still cocked.
This, she does not know: That afternoon,
she will hit her young daughter for the first time in her life
for dropping her syrup like so many times before.
Red liquid will spread across the wooden floor.
This, he does not know: That evening,
he will cycle home late and get so angry at a careless driver
that he will hurl a stone at the car, and miss
and stare at the two red eyes which will glare back at him.
Ours being a large family
aunts and uncles have been dying
unsettlingly regularly for years.
I have come to know how funerals work.
The suppressed warmth when greeting
those we only see on these occasions;
the priest who must act
as if she had known the deceased;
then my favourite part: the life story
always with one surprising twist,
some previously unknown biographical morsel.
(This is usually followed by tears
as I understand that all the rest must now be lost.)
Later, outside, we file past the fresh grave.
I scan the wreaths for the one
which invariably brings more tears.
The one which the German cousins bring:
more sombre than ours, bearing the legend
that is the most striking memento mori
I have ever known.
Gold letters on mauve or black:
You don’t know how to stop.
I don’t want to start
because I see the drop.
And so I weigh this dart
and try to hold it back.
(Letting fly would be weak.)
You say my face looks black.
You ask: “Why won’t you speak?”
Because all I can say
is poison, anger, spite.
There is no other way:
I know no ‘fighting lite’.
I have the killer line;
the word to end it now.
Trying to mend’s not mine,
and once I plough, I plough.
I could end this match,
know where to place a punch.
I find your talking lame.
I want to hear that crunch
when you hit the floor
after that final sway.
Hey, it’s a metaphor!
I don’t mean what I say.
So I had best shut up
and keep things to myself,
be silent while we sup
and glower at the shelf.