Some things are excruciatingly small, others just excruciating, and they comprise a typical day. One is grateful to be observing them, these things. For one more day. One more whatever. Not a grim thought, but a grounded one.
Let us begin at the breakfast table. I am also grateful to not approach this site alone. Breakfasts being a particularly dismal experience in the time after Marlou’s death. Now I am not alone. Jane has prepared cereal, cut up bananas, is having a quick morning read, dogs circulating. She will be off in moments. This is what mornings are for. This is what this particular part of this morning is for, pre-launch. When she goes to work at a church office and I go to work at an exercycle. She has been most helpful, the last few moments dominated by the practical, and it comes to me, the urge to give her a morning kiss. I am reticent for some reason. Actually, I am pained.
To reach out is also to reach in. Someone about to go. Someone close to me. As though forever. As though uncaring. Which could not be farther from the truth, but the truth is hardly the point. For everything quickly fills with loss. Like rainwater in a footprint. Now it is the most routine of perceptions, the simple fact that a kiss and a hug require a certain level of premeditation. Taking the glasses off being part of it. Maneuvering the wheelchair so that Jane is grabbable. She rises, spoon down with a clink…and it becomes futile, this gesture. Though it is not. Nothing is stopping me but the twin awareness of my need for a soothing embrace before separation and the forty-year separation from my own body. Missed opportunities, poignancy and disappointment. It takes a full day to grasp this moment. Late being better than ever.
Grief Avoidance being a full-time occupation, it’s hard to say where to go late the same evening when it’s time to vacate my apartment for an hour. Who better to take with me than William Stafford? Master of things as they are. The choices boil down to soup at the outdoor café, although indoors at this hour, or the library. Somehow the latter feels too bleak. I question this. On the way, proximity being what it is, I opt for neither. Starbucks, oy Starbucks, but it is what it is. Close, in fact, just here. I roll inside, but the place is closing at 7 PM. Not meant to be, of course. So the library. The most worthy of public institutions, among the last free and collective spaces in the urban landscape. Good to see Britons rising in revolt against the Conservatives’ attempt to shutter the nation’s libraries…and not happening in Menlo Park, and not happening over my dead body in any case. Someone is at the library door. Have I come for the puppet show? Pity. For the library is only now, only open to those attending the children’s performance. Being shut on Thursdays at 6 PM, as the sign on the door explains. Soup. I was obviously destined for soup and café society. They are all against me. And I don’t even know who they are.
Thing is, I really don’t want soup. I want a table. Soup, or some food order, goes with the territory. So it’s black bean vegetable soup. Familiar. Hot enough. I open William Stafford. We are in Kansas, in the radio show that was the 1930s. Those with rectitude are upright as a board. The rest have fallen. Morality being either up or down. Success and failure at right angles. And the little boy in the middle of all this windswept, snow drifting mystery, Stafford himself, is forgotten. Only he remembers and remembers constantly. I turn the page and have a bite of soft black beans, carrots and a crouton with Parmesan cheese. The Stafford family is drifting toward the next opportunity, the next state. It is, though no one knows it, the Depression. The word is never uttered. How’s the book?
This from a waitress. Blond, round-faced, a kewpie doll effect. Before I can answer, she continues. What is it about? A day later, it occurs to me that I could have done us both a favor and pleaded ignorance. I don’t know. This being an introduction to poetry, the art of I don’t know, not quite yet, the knowing being just there, almost within grasp. However. For the present, I feel invaded. Having been seated at this table in my solitude and vocational melancholy. Now exposed. As though I must justify myself. What I tell the girl is that this is a poetry book. A famous one. She persists. What is my favorite poem? I am balancing on a knife edge of irritation and gratitude. The essential thing is to slow down. She is only mildly inane, this girl, and probably more insightful than 99% of America. She is trying to be friendly.
I wonder if the manager has sicced on me. Go and talk about lonely old man, won’t you? That sort of thing. Or her own internal manager has urged her to do the same thing. It is my manager that must flex some muscle at this moment. The title poem, I say. The Darkness around Us, one of Stafford’s masterpieces. I say is my favorite. Perhaps not true, but true enough. The girl tells me that she likes the cover art, hands praying. She adds that she will check it out. Unlikely, I know. But she has checked me out in some way. Perhaps concerned that I looked despondent. My own manager says no, or so what? And remember, this exchange says as much about her as about me. Room is at a premium these days, public space shrinking, and grief? This is a nation of storage lockers, after all.
Thing about the Grief Road, it only moves forward. Side turns send you nowhere. You might as well shut your eyes and progress like a train. Still, there is progress. This very morning at Sky Nails, once Mai had completed her major tasks, cuticles shown their proper place in the world, I was actually grateful when she got on with the gratuitous, time-consuming, half embarrassing, for-bored-middle-aged-women-only thing of slathering my forearms with lotion and massaging me. I liked the contact. Jane would arrive later, having already arrived once, in fact just moments before my manicure. Some moments are hellos, others are goodbyes, and they are all sweet sorrow. But at least they are sweet. And they keep coming.