Friday, October 2, 2020

Selected Works, Keith Tuma




The sparrow builds her nest on our porch light. The porch is not enclosed, so she easily comes and goes, making a twiggy mess of our all-weather rug. We watch her fly away every time we leave the house. We are always startled, no matter how often we’ve seen her zip to a branch on the other side of the driveway. She watches us make our way to the garage and then returns to her nest. Our comings and goings must be a nuisance for her, but she’s been back three years in a row. We have no idea what she does when we switch on the porch light. Have we cooked her eggs? So far as I know there have been no nestlings. One December I took down her work but learned nothing. We wait for her and then take her for granted. We are only so good at keeping an eye on her. But she gladdens our summers.


                        for Allison


It’s a mush of melting snow in the backyard under the trees.  I’m waiting for the little dog Moose to smell what he wants to smell and do his business, as some call it. He’s lost in discovery. Our two white pines, twins almost, and the oak and tulip tree loom tall and ancient, older than the house, older than me. It’s dark and quiet and I have nothing that needs doing, though I want Moose to be done so I can get out of the cold. After a week of sub-zero temperatures branches litter the ground, waiting for a warmer day to be gathered and tossed into the woodpile I’ve established among the honeysuckle that forms a natural border at the back of the lot, hiding the stone house that once was the farmhouse for this land. Between our lot and that house there is this natural border, we say, as if there were such a thing. We mean anything other than a fence. As Moose noses around I happen to look up in time to see a black branch falling from the tulip tree. These trees aren’t only old, I think, they’re falling apart. It’s dangerous to be under them. The branch hits the thawing turf with a thud. Then I see that it’s not a branch but a squirrel. That’s a first, I think. I’m too old to believe in a natural world, but it’s harder to give up on talent. It takes the squirrel a second to get up and run back to the tree.



The door is wide open, and there’s no leaving. The company is such; the obligations that brought us linger. They will be heard. Ding dong. There’s no leaving, and the door is wide open. These are recorded bells, a carillon playing commercial pop, avoiding religious songs. Still, we are hailed by the sound, summoned to “Jingle Bell Rock”: the door is wide open and there’s no leaving. Snow won’t muffle what cold air carries outdoors between classes. The blabbering trees and whispering grass are in their winter. They don’t need to know. We do, apparently. Ding dong. The door is wide open, and there’s no leaving.



The oncology nurse likes to talk about everyday life—traffic this morning during her commute to the city, plans for a holiday still a few months away, her daughter’s decision to quit college and move in with friends in a tiny North End apartment. “Who is paying for that?” The oncology nurse is friendly, but this is her professional talk. She’s killing time for the young woman waiting for chemotherapy. The drugs must be made up and bagged on the morning of the infusions; pharmacists must wait on white blood cell counts to get the go-ahead. The oncology nurse acts as if she has all the time in the world. The young woman’s father has come from far away, her boyfriend too. They’ve driven across town to buy dry ice to freeze the blue turban the young woman will wrap around her head, to keep her hair from falling out. “Would you like some crackers?” the oncology nurse asks. “This first one will take forty minutes,” she says, and names the drug. The young woman knows it already. “The steroids will keep you strong, more energetic than usual, for a day or two.” The oncology nurse reminds the young woman that she’ll need to flush her toilet twice if others are staying in her apartment.  If she has a high fever she is to come back to the hospital. She’s seen the blue turban before, yes.



I meet my old friends at a poetry reading in Portland, Oregon and we agree to get drinks after and wind up at a tony rooftop bar not far from the bookstore. The weather is perfect, the first hint of summer, bright sun and a light breeze—though Donald Barthelme says don’t describe the weather. Martini weather then. We are lucky to get a table. My daughter and her boyfriend are in town and come along to meet my poetry friends. One of them tells us about travelling to Switzerland for the assisted suicide of his father who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. I’d last heard about his father in a text my friend sent as I was headed home from Boston after visiting my daughter in a time of illness for her. I’m feeling lucky that she’s in good health. My friend tells of depositing his father’s ashes in the Atlantic before coming back to the States. How intelligent, I think, how responsible and brave. And then he tells us about riding his mountain bike on a trail near his home in Olympia, Washington and coming around a bend to meet a mountain lion. This explains the sling on one arm. There is nothing to learn from the stars. 

No comments:

Post a Comment