Everything In This World
Not long after Adelaide was born, intensifying after Corey died
Claudia couldn’t drive. Not in the city.
The winding country roads, like the one near Old Man’s Cave
where I, seventeen, laughing in the backseat
spun sharply, one stick from ravine’s edge
the closest I have ever been to death.
Those roads are still
doable. It’s the rushing lanes, compacted space
that spark anxiety.
Over the phone, we talk about my trip home.
Between bits of conversation, we piece together
the elaborate plan. Her coming up
by way of the in-laws, her child
staying with them, me
driving us down to
Cincinnati, triangle around the state.
No one asking the world,
just hours, miles. Giving up breakfast with
friend in town for a beat.
This favor so easily done, such an innate part
of friendship, that I am baffled by this fresh
certainty rising in me.
Driving Claudia is the most vital thing. Meeting her need gives
confidence in the world. My daughter hops over me and laughs.
We wave goodbye to Adelaide, to Elwyn
get rolling in my parents’ car.
Without husbands, daughters, nothing
to pay attention to but the road, each other.
The seat belt digs roughly into my neck.
Claudia reaches over, slides the mechanism down
to better placement. The adjustment takes,
we continue our exchange.
How much home improvement remains
how our children learn, we curve into the limbs of our religion
how having no money wears you out
all the ways we order the chaos.
We arrive at the hotel room we are sharing
with friends. Jason opens the door, boundless hug.
He has warned us
a bottle of Voignier is chilling.
Jenny fresh from the shower,
in a melon crepe dress is already sweating badly.
We discuss options.
We all agree
she would be more comfortable
in the sleeveless olive shift.
A knock. Tara and Amy bust through,
two more of our band. We trickle down
to the lobby, a gathering up.
We hug, pick on each other. Remember when you said that.
Feels good to reach back and feel the people we were.
But even more, we talk about now
tiny things, the best gin, new shoes.
In the cab, I am surprised
my shyest friend is taking public speaking classes.
I am not surprised
Amy is finally going to run for office.
We have made this same journey
for each one of us, starting
eighteen years ago, Heidi and Joe.
So many weddings
church, park, field, hall
jazz and now
here we are
back in Ohio.
Each wedding unrepeatable
Each wedding welcoming in
someone new: field guide, architect, inventory manager
my husband, a violinist, and in late August, a cop
don’t ask to wear her hat.
Today, the longest day of summer, extends for Megan and Izzy.
From up front, the officiant pronounces, “The beginning.”
common wedding code, we are hungry
Continues on to middle
sun crushing hard, will there be champagne?
I squint, adjust my legs.
“World without end.” We know these words,
the years at Catholic school.
Megan, Izzy hand each ring to the other.
Next to me, Claudia leans forward, doing her best
Megan beaming. Izzy,
radiant on the pulse of moment.
The sun no longer a fight.
These two standing in front, the rest of us
hair combed, shirts tucked, dresses,
mixed in with sisters, cousins.
This place, once merely words on heavy paper
a day, an address.
We have made it here on time.
Over and over we go our separate ways
arrive together again and again.
This world without end.
The ceremony does end. There is champagne.
We determine which bar has the short line.
Pull together chairs, delight in hearing good stories.
How is Owen already seventeen? Thunderstruck,
someone says, “In a band, at a bar?”
The circle widens, small portraits emerge
Success at work, adoption, a third baby.
We have come this far together not
because of joy, nor history. A harder list:
Because at seventeen, surrounded by softball players,
too many beers in the afternoon, we could call
Come pick me up. I’m not telling you yet, I’m gay.
We have come this far because at twenty-nine
baritone, Johnny Cash, surprise I can sing.
We have come this far because at twenty, we bombed
out of college
pulled each other to the other side of town,
ransacked the best thrift store.
We wrote letters
parked right outside Uncle Sam’s Pawn Shop
heart still smoldering from
We have come this far because now,
we are the artist with arthritis
coursing each finger joint.
Because at twenty-one, we awoke from
coma without arm
drove left-handed across the plains to be together.
In the face of divorce, we arranged flowers, became a doctor.
We have angry parents, aging parents,
We’ve withstood the wrecking of a city.
On the worst night, we have flown to be side by side
when a child has died, when a brother has died.
Stood at funerals of mom, dad.
We will not experience everything in this world.
But if we are dedicated to others, we go through it all .
All pictures have been taken.
The last song comes.
Despite pressure from Jenny
the DJ never plays what she is waiting for.
It would have been good.
We pile into the cab, ramble back
for one more drink
or two. Just below the surface of celebration
is baby Corey.
A week after his memorial,
we converged on Claudia and Andy
Broccoli salad, fizzy water, egg salad.
Around a table in the country sun, we grieved
even laughed, we are funny when we are together,
our families all look different now.
The next morning, Claudia and I rise earlier.
We tap Jenny and Jason out the door
bye dear friends. We don’t wake anyone else
the road leads East.
Yesterday’s conversation thickens.
We are quieter, tired, I say
How, just because you
have a kid, can you stop trying
to do what you are trying to do?
How can you say
I have been raised by
parents, you are being raised
and you will someday raise?
This is all there is, kid, this is all there is.
Unquestionably, the child is most essential.
She must be loved, helped through school,
shown the necessity of kindness.
I want to run the road beside her, more than anything.
I am a mother, run ragged but I am on fire.
A desire shoulders up to me,
impels me to uncover
what it means to
be part of something, not just repeat, make oatmeal
buy the next size shoe
to see myself past
my skill set or lack of
past all this muscle I’ve created
all these years of hard work.
To really go at the heart of the day again and again.
Can’t all this inclination to take care of someone else,
foster growth, forge art
live hand in hand
Can’t the mystery of life contain all these rigors
There must be room for what I am trying so hard to make.
It is late, I ascend the carpeted stairs
my childhood home, I am thirty-seven.
Pause on the landing, face family pictures
antique wedding portraits, my grandmother, Mary Mitchell,
too poor for a wedding dress.
I never knew how striking she once was until this picture,
her bestwool suit, her life ahead.
My other grandma, Beatrice Caton,
an artful veil trimmed in lace.
Mine patterned after hers.
My own parents, no formal wedding portrait.
It was the seventies, they say.
Once, I grouped loose snapshots from a shoebox.
Mom in dotted Swiss, Dad made a matching tie.
Finally, a picture of Mike and me on our wedding day.
My dad in the wrong suit, my mom, beautiful, unworried.
The rain has passed, the light is what we all hope for.
We have stood at the altar, looked out at those who
know us best.
The last portrait, the one that doesn’t always
grab my eye, my great-grandma. She is stern,
the photo, soft as a pencil drawing.
I know my own grandma, freshly married, cared
for this woman, her new mother-law, until she died.
This was the story passed down.
This is what we do.
What did they talk about, cool wash
cloth after washcloth. I know my grandma was listening
to her new husband’s dying mother.
And the rest I know as legend.
My grandparents moved to Ohio.
Grandma didn’t unpack
for a year, sure they would return
to upstate New York. One day, she opened
a box of linens. Had two more children and
Ohio became home.
Not quite a fact: Mom met Dad met
at an anti-war Catholic club.
Did Dad leave mom with
dishes on their first date? The narrative remains unclear.
I hurdle to my parents driving me down to
Louisiana. I know they are shaking their heads,
this is not comfortable. Too deep, too South.
But I find Mike in Louisiana. We all know that I cannot meet
Mike in any other state. And now we are parents,
we have Elwyn.
The passing of time is
not just state miles, hours, or the carrying of genes.
It is in the words that we hear, repeat.
Words Elwyn, the great-great granddaughter, will one day say.
Three more stairs above this landing,
my parents in their room, behind the other door
my child asleep, in her crib, my childhood room.
Claudia says it is our job to be examples
I see the way I am going
I’ve sensed for many years, under words
I will never be elderly
My friends, our children,
All these family portraits, tell me something else
I am one of you.