The full version of Home (In)Stead, For Now will be published in 2017 in TEACHES OF PEACHES, a winner of the TAR Chapbook Series.
MERLE: It’s hard to raise your cane while your mother prays for your crops to fail. But down every road there’s always one more city. In your case, it might be the best idea to just run.
(MERLE hands PEACHES a seedling to plant.)
PEACHES: Don’t ever say I didn’t grow here.
-Cats for Change and Other Charitable Causes
Merle Haggard died two days after I found out my cat Peaches is dying from cancer. There are ranges of months where it is collectively and culturally decided that the current calendar year is the year of death, the one where all the people who have ever mattered just keep dying. 2016 is such a year. January to April is such a range of months.
David Bowie died on January 10.
Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor) died on March 22.
Zaha Hadid died on March 31.
It was a bizarrely snowy Monday afternoon when I sat in the veterinarian’s office and waited while my cat got the fluid drained from her tiny lungs. I was scrolling through a friend’s play on my phone, thinking about how strange and nice the car ride to the vet had been, sitting in Paul’s Uber as he told me about the time he and his girlfriend found the smallest kitten he had ever seen in South Dakota and drove back to Rhode Island with it, in one of their hands the whole time, I imagined. They named it Sioux and I could tell his favorite part of the story was that he and his girlfriend were jokingly cooing “Little Sue” to a male cat. There was snow on Peaches’ carrier and it was melting onto the tan leather of Paul’s back seat and inclement weather traffic was turning a six-minute car ride into a twenty-minute one and I wanted to hear more about his other pets. I wanted Paul to talk more about his dog that broke its tail once, not because I love animals so much or because I was so worried about what would be wrong with my own cat, but simply because this man I did not know was driving me around in his car in the snow and we were both trapped in that vehicle that was trapped in ridiculous traffic on Point Street. The traffic was ridiculous in the way all traffic in Providence is: it should not be happening; there is topographically not enough street or road mileage in this city to warrant a vehicular situation that should even qualify as “traffic.” So the traffic was really just a temporary trapping of a bunch of cars by the snow falling out of the sky. And that’s why I wanted Paul to keep telling me about the injuries of his dog whose name I don’t recall, because celestially speaking, there was no way for us to escape each other and I thought we should both honor that somehow.
As the snow fell heavier while I sat in the examination room alone, I considered writing a poem about the afternoon because it was strange and sad and funny and bizarre and quite absurd. My cat weighs about six pounds (a little more than seven when all the fluid was in her lungs) and I was about to spend upwards of $600 to keep her alive for an unknown amount of time. That is actually a joke, in the technical and physical way you force things that don’t make any sense together to collide. A few pounds, $600, April, snow—all of these things had smashed into each other Monday afternoon leaving me a pair of options: to laugh or to write poetry. That day the two felt very much the same.
In a letter I once wrote to someone I noted that I never learned how to grieve. It was a skill that I was, at the time, sad not to have acquired. I said that my family was really good at death, that my family is really good at dealing with crisis and death. But in these events, sadness and grief are not our strong suits. We don’t know how to weep or hold tissues to our faces or go silent or go limp or lie in bed in the dark. And those are all fine things to do. Grieving is a fine thing to do because it’s a human thing to do. And it is a mighty fine thing to be human. Sometimes I wish we allowed ourselves to be more human in my family: to fall and be fallible, to fail, to succumb to the gravity of tears for more than one morning’s moment. In my family, we have mastered the art and business of mourning, of making lots of things out of nothing, of multiplying bread and fish, of breaking open, digging, and pulling all we can, all we must, out of absence. That is not fine; it is necessary…