after Matthew Olzmann
Oh button, don’t go thinking we loved pianos
more than elephants, air conditioning more than air.
We loved honey, just loved it, and went into stores
to smell the sweet perfume of unworn leather shoes.
Did you know, on the coast of Africa, the Sea Rose
and Carpenter Bee used to depend on each other?
The petals only opened for the Middle C their wings
beat, so in the end, we protested with tuning forks.
You must think we hated the stars, the empty ladles,
because they conjured thirst. We didn’t. We thanked
them and called them lucky, we even bought the rights
to name them for our sweethearts. Believe it or not,
most people kept plants like pets and hired kids
like you to water them, whenever they went away.
And ice! Can you imagine? We put it in our coffee
and dumped it out at traffic lights, when it plugged up
our drinking straws. I had a dog once, a real dog,
who ate venison and golden yams from a plastic dish.
He was stubborn, but I taught him to dance and play
dead with a bucket full of chicken livers. And we danced
too, you know, at weddings and wakes, in basements
and churches, even when the war was on. Our cars
we mostly named for animals, and sometimes we drove
just to drive, to clear our heads of everything but wind.
Copyright © 2020 J.P. Grasser. Originally published in American Poets vol. 58. Distributed by the Academy of American Poets.
If many remedies are prescribed
for an illness, you may be certain
that the illness has no cure.
A. P. CHEKHOV
The Cherry Orchard
1 FROM THE NURSERY When I was born, you waited behind a pile of linen in the nursery, and when we were alone, you lay down on top of me, pressing the bile of desolation into every pore. And from that day on everything under the sun and moon made me sad—even the yellow wooden beads that slid and spun along a spindle on my crib. You taught me to exist without gratitude. You ruined my manners toward God: "We're here simply to wait for death; the pleasures of earth are overrated." I only appeared to belong to my mother, to live among blocks and cotton undershirts with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. I was already yours—the anti-urge, the mutilator of souls. 2 BOTTLES Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. The coated ones smell sweet or have no smell; the powdery ones smell like the chemistry lab at school that made me hold my breath. 3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND You wouldn't be so depressed if you really believed in God. 4 OFTEN Often I go to bed as soon after dinner as seems adult (I mean I try to wait for dark) in order to push away from the massive pain in sleep's frail wicker coracle. 5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT Once, in my early thirties, I saw that I was a speck of light in the great river of light that undulates through time. I was floating with the whole human family. We were all colors—those who are living now, those who have died, those who are not yet born. For a few moments I floated, completely calm, and I no longer hated having to exist. Like a crow who smells hot blood you came flying to pull me out of the glowing stream. "I'll hold you up. I never let my dear ones drown!" After that, I wept for days. 6 IN AND OUT The dog searches until he finds me upstairs, lies down with a clatter of elbows, puts his head on my foot. Sometimes the sound of his breathing saves my life—in and out, in and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 7 PARDON A piece of burned meat wears my clothes, speaks in my voice, dispatches obligations haltingly, or not at all. It is tired of trying to be stouthearted, tired beyond measure. We move on to the monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Day and night I feel as if I had drunk six cups of coffee, but the pain stops abruptly. With the wonder and bitterness of someone pardoned for a crime she did not commit I come back to marriage and friends, to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back to my desk, books, and chair. 8 CREDO Pharmaceutical wonders are at work but I believe only in this moment of well-being. Unholy ghost, you are certain to come again. Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet on the coffee table, lean back, and turn me into someone who can't take the trouble to speak; someone who can't sleep, or who does nothing but sleep; can't read, or call for an appointment for help. There is nothing I can do against your coming. When I awake, I am still with thee. 9 WOOD THRUSH High on Nardil and June light I wake at four, waiting greedily for the first note of the wood thrush. Easeful air presses through the screen with the wild, complex song of the bird, and I am overcome by ordinary contentment. What hurt me so terribly all my life until this moment? How I love the small, swiftly beating heart of the bird singing in the great maples; its bright, unequivocal eye.
From Constance by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1993 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.