In from the airport, heading back into the sprawl,
I'm scrunched down in the leatherette
backseat of my ex-wife's new Accord,
my head filled with soft cheese.
I'm ready for a pillow,
still testing the sadness, like a new word I haven't
learned to use, or a pair of shoes not broken in,
unyielding as the notion that we are raw,
passing facts, pummeled by air,
shivering back on earth as we do
in thin, summer clothes.
I don't want to be the man blowing the leaves
as the dry heat heaves into October.
I don't want to be head of the family,
to squint at numbers intractable
on stock reports or read silvery tables
of fine print buried in the business pages.
I don't want to plan for death like a person
remembering the future. I don't want to lie in bed
three brittle hours each day, fretting about
a bologna sandwich, and worrying
if I can get a banana before dinner.
I don't want endless finales on the telephone,
to bequeath a legacy so charily concocted
it can't be decoded, except by those
licensed to piece together pages misfiled
in the blue cabinet of the wind.
After landing, I waited a half hour for my baggage.
The carousel going 'round seemed interminable
but in retrospect was momentary, brief as a splash of water.
I waited with my briefcase slung over my shoulder,
holding in its padded recesses all my memory.
How long ago was it I learned to drive the '55 Fiat,
orange carpet tiles on the ceiling to absorb the shaking?
Or hitched a camper to the back of the Galaxy,
caught in a thunderstorm, brilliant,
in the folds of the Boston Mountains?
Who knew that life would stretch a lifetime?
Or what my franchise would be
after I rolled the canoe in the White River, clawing
the rocky bottom, my father yelling,
"Put your head up," as the sky lurched at my panic?
Or on the all-night drive across the Mojave,
who woke me up to see the dipper
slide over the flayed outskirts of San Bernardino?
I don't want to be the man who pulls over
to drink tea from a thermos, checking the map
for the precise exit. I don't want to forget things
I imagined happened before I'd seen
a freeway or uttered a complex sentence.
I don't want to be like the man
who scorned the first person, who made me
me. Who shaved off my facial fuzz
with my mother's Norelco. Afterward
he'd sit at his desk with a snifter of brandy,
one ear plugged into Haydn or Mozart
playing through a transistor radio,
and grade papers.
He hit me once because I had called him Hitler.
He used to send me away to practice
the piano. Once he rifled through my drawers
finding Gauloises and Salems. How my room must
have stank, but that's not what bothered him.
It was that he couldn't perfect my imperfections.
I don't want to be the man who converts
to buying gemstones. Who enjoys
numbers for their rational biographies.
My head is swimming. I see we're getting close
to home, where a light mist curls beneath the sodium-
vapor lamps. I know I'll need help
to get the bags out of the trunk.
In almost sixty years on the planet,
I've never been without him. I need to take
my vitamins, to start a low-fat diet.
I need to walk more, wander around the neighborhood.
According to him few of our men have strong hearts.
The Gettysburg Review Summer 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Alan Soldofsky
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission