So what if the old man on the bus is trying and failing to remember his dead mom’s face, as if the past were not a cartoon tunnel scratched on a wall? He’s still trying, and when did we forget our cattle-shoes and feather-parkas, how we carry with us a lowing sadness, an extinguished memory of flight? Today I’m going to count all the blackbirds between the prison and the Walmart where, right now, in its galloping sadness a bald man who sounds like a car horn is hector-lecturing his infant-hushing girlfriend—as her unhappiness, radiant as a cleat, sharp as an ice skate, sprays to a sudden stop. Right now, at the emergency crisis center right next to the gun store, the nurse feels entombed in hours like a fly in amber as the waiting room TVs spin despair’s golden honey— and I think of the ice I waded out on as a kid, of how often the world seems like it’s going to shatter, but then, miraculously, mercilessly, does not.
Copyright © 2019 by Adam Scheffler. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
“This poem is a composite of various scenes of unhappiness I’ve stumbled across—not all of them having taken place in Florence, though all were in the tri-state area of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. My partner is from that area and I’ve spent my summers there for the last decade. It’s a particularly beautiful and lush area in the summer right near the Ohio river—full of wild growth, big starry skies, fireflies, and copious deer—but it’s also a region full of particularly American forms of ugliness (big box retailers, gun stores, etc.). Once, just as I asked how polluted the river was, a full toilet came cruising down the water like a flotilla preceded by a twenty-foot navel of sludge. In some ways, that’s the feeling behind the poem—that there is beauty in how people go on despite the many degradations visited upon us.”