by Roland Flint

On a rainy Sunday I have an optional meeting
with my students, and eleven show up.
We have a good time talking ninety minutes or so
about James Wright’s “To a Blossoming Pear Tree.”
Afterwards, though I had thought to stay in my office,
I decide to go home, because I’m too agitated to work,
having drunk a large cup of strong coffee
instead of my usual decaffeinated stuff.
I call Rosalind to tell her I’m coming home,
and she seems glad but, as she had earlier this morning,
also a bit depressed. Why? She thinks it’s because,
although she’s happy to be going back to New Zealand, tomorrow,
she’s sad about leaving her sons and me at Christmas.
So I decide to get her some flowers on the way home.

I buy a bunch each of blue and white irises
and three yellow sweetheart roses.
At the busy florist’s there is a woman of 27 or 28
wearing a sweatshirt with my school’s name on it.
I don’t know her, but she glances as if she recognizes me.
She has thick blond hair with some soft reds in it,
and I think it is not so red or fine as my son’s hair was.
I also think she looks some like the daisies she’s picking out.
And I think to put in a poem some time
a woman’s hair with the colors of a daisy’s eye.

Driving home I come aware of how beautifully
iris folds in and out upon itself,
like someone in grief, like my mother in hers,
her long sad life, which ended seventy-seven days ago.
It occurs to me, though I had told the clerk no fern
(because they remind me of funeral sprays)
that when she absently asked me again if I wanted ferns,
I said yes, as absently, which makes me realize
how much my mother is on my mind, buried
on the eleventh anniversary of the boy’s death.

Also, not quite refusing it but resisting it,
I can’t keep out the solace: he is with her now.
And even as I’m annoyed to suppose
I’ll put this too in a poem some time,
I think of the boy’s mother, of my mother, my wife,
these women in their sorrows, and consider
some failures touching all of them,
the irises and roses beside me on the seat.

On Nebraska Avenue I see a very small boy
walking on the grass between the sidewalk and the street,
alone except for a big golden retriever, near him.
I can’t tell if they are together. When it comes to me
the boy really is alone, so near the street, and only two years old,
or younger, my stomach moves, with fear.
I pull over, stop the car, get out and ask a jogger,
who is slowing to a walk, if he knows the boy. No, he doesn’t.
I try to be calm and talk quietly to the boy.
Where do you live? where is your house?
He doesn’t answer, the cars blowing by, but
seems to wave toward the dog. I say let’s go there,
and try to smile him into walking along with me,
aware the jogger has stopped and, as I would do,
is wondering about me and what I might be up to.
I don’t try to take the boy’s hand. Mine, I see, is trembling.
He doesn’t speak: he may not be old enough to speak.

Then I hear someone scared and calling—we’re next to
a steeply banked yard, behind a wall, chest-high.
I see the parents running down, and hear them calling a name.
I pick up the boy under his arms slowly as I can,
and hold him up so they can see him. He does not cry out.
The mother is nodding, yes, and waves relief. They are not
coming from the direction I was trying to get the boy to.

I put him down and now he takes my hand as we walk,
back around the corner, toward his parents.
When he sees his father, he pulls away, and, making wordless noises,
runs to him, back onto the grass, next to the curb.
The father is so angry with himself
he begins yelling: “Michael, where did you go?”
and I say, too loudly, hearing how my voice is shaking,
“I think he’s very frightened now,” hoping
he will stop yelling at his son—and he does stop.
Michael wants his father to come with him,
back to the corner, where he points at the dog.
“Ah,” says his father, and calls to him: “Bennie!”
Bennie comes running. Michael had been following Bennie.

We talk, they thank me, they had just now noticed
Michael somehow got out in the rain.
As the guilty father talks me back to my car,
I answer carefully, trying to hold my voice down.
I tell him I understand, that my oldest daughter
somehow got out when she was eighteen months
and almost got into the street, how a neighbor
took her in and called me. I understand.
I don’t want to say more, and I’m afraid I’ll start crying,
but I have to, to make it clearer:
I tell him my son was killed in the street like this.
He says, “Really?” and thanks me again, and I leave.

I don’t start crying until I get back in the car—
and I’m furious and groan with it to know,
even then, in spite of myself, that I’ll write about this
as well, pulled through the pages by something,
as if in the hand, to write it down here.
Besides despair of writing it well enough
in this revulsion at smearing grief
in order to do it, to use a poem as if you were
trading what you have lived through for words,
selling out, by using, the worst secrets.
But the words come anyway. So when, finally,
I have to write them down, I fear
I may be stupidly tempting death, and yet
I write them as if my life is the poem to give—
its work come clearly, saying, go and write,
do what has been given to do, and
if it is given in grief accept it there,
where you may see whatever else is given:
this time Michael following Bennie in the rain
has made you feel in his small hand bones
the unknown body of his living,
his unrepeatable life, which you write down
as if it were your own, as if its
prayer Michael might have his
is something mending your. And maybe it is.

Last updated April 09, 2011