The Tim Poems
from Prairie Schooner, Fall 2006
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,
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,
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.
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 .
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 hammer toe
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.
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.
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
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 doesn't reek
of perking cinnamon, besides which there are two
new restaurants in town you would have given
three or four hats. And while I mention hats,
that imp of yours demands a silver crown
and a dress to match, so as usual the machine
is piled with poly satin and organza.
There she is, often now. She's apt to say,
present tense, "It's not good when my daddy dies."
But the apple pie is good.
And we're going Business Frequent
Flier to England, and Peter has just announced
he's adding cricket to his repertoire
of spectator sports. Oh, and there's new stuff: the flat
screen LCD, and the Acura with GPS—
we're driving that baby to Maine, where I've never been
and you never went.
And of course there are the words,
my faulty thermos, dribbling, sometimes pouring,
keeping it cold. So don't suppose there's nothing.
It's only that there is also always this,
like a clubfoot or a hunchback or a caul
or a wart on my hook nose
when I prowl at night
cleaving the unclean air.
Notwithstanding you are in your grave
these fifteen months
you are invited to apply
for a fixed-rate zero-percent American
Express. Your mortgage has been pre-approved
(some conditions may apply).
Your life assurance is inadequate.
Please fill in this form,
and are you interested
in long-term care?
Brown's Catalogue is the source
for all your survival needs.
Until it expires
this coupon entitles you to twenty percent
off at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
The GOP requests
asap the return of this questionnaire
on which significant issues of the day
you find most urgent,
and the NRA
needs your support to protect our citizens
against curtailment of their inalienable right
to bear arms.
Hello! The class of eighty-six
hopes you will join them for their twentieth,
and would you like the chicken or the fish?
© Janet Burroway. All Rights Reserved.