It's one thing to mention
the exploding population of dead
whitetail deer along the shoulders
of our Interstate highways,
because who doesn't mind seeing
a gentle creature
like a whitetail---even a dead one,
whose crumpled or swollen
but still delicate body
provides an opportunity to reflect
on our common mortality
with tenderness and sincerity
but without undue regret,
assuming, of course, that you
didn't wreck your car
and were not the guilty driver.
But what of the crushed possum
with its hairless tail
and toothy grin?
And what about those turkey vultures
who lately seem
to be everywhere,
soaring in ever-narrowing circles
or else spreading
their coarse-feathered wings to dry
as they perch on a cell tower.
After my father died,
and they were about to close his coffin,
my mother stepped forward
at the very last moment
to tuck a fifty-dollar bill
into the pocket of his shirt.
"Because you were always so worried
about money," she said,
"but everything will be okay now."
And frankly, it took an effort of will
to stop myself from pulling
that fifty bucks out again
because I was, after all, his son,
but I held myself back,
mainly by thinking about
the comforting if unlikelypossibility of some sort of afterlife
and the reassuring
message provided by grave goods,
by those elaborate gold masks
entombed with Egyptian pharaohs,
or by clay jars of spear points buried
alongside Cheyenne warriors,
or by dried flower petals
in Neanderthal mounds.
As a poet who teaches
Freshman Composition for a living,
I occasionally consider
gleaning a misplaced or inexact
but nevertheless highly-original
turn of phrase from an essay
that one of my semi-illiterate
students has written,
but so far I've managed to resist
the impulse to plagiarize
although each time I fail to do so
means those particular words
will never get to live again.
Once, at eighteen, I brought
a new girlfriend home
to meet my family, and she walked into
a scene that looked like something
like the ugliness and squalor
that Van Gogh had depicted in
his painting, The Potato Eaters,
where the weary faces of the peasants
clustered around a table
tell us everything we need to know
about their poverty and suffering.
In our kitchen, a rusty old refrigerator
had been wired to a fixture in the ceiling
where a single bare bulb hung down,
and the holes in the crumbling
plaster were cast into high relief.
fingering the pennies he'd saved
for years in a pickle jar
until they could be counted, stacked,
and rolled into paper cones.
It was almost too much--
I couldn't have staged it better,
because I could somehow feel
my girlfriend recoil
at the grimness and grit,
which was, I realized,
exactly why I'd brought her home.
This is who I am, I'd wanted
to tell her. This is what you're in for.
But memory has a way
of playing cruel tricks because
I probably wasn't half
that self-aware back then,
and the life we'd go on to lead together
wouldn't be nearly as bad as that.
For these were simply images
I'd later scavenge and hoard
against a deathless future,
the ridiculous possibility
of artistic immortality
I once imagined I'd get to live.
Michael Colonnese lives and works in Fayetteville, NC, where he directs the Creative Writing Program at Methodist University and serves as the managing editor of Longleaf Press. He is the author of a mystery novel, Sex and Death, I Suppose, and of two poetry collections, Temporary Agency and Double Feature.
The Ekphrastic Review
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