Your Small Towns of Adult Sorrow & Melancholy

Monday, July 16, 2012


Because when my friend calls from Montana he’s walking the aisles of a 24-hour Walmart. Because when I ask him to tell me about the big sky I realize he’s standing in front of the same thing he could see here, could see anywhere.

Because nearly everyone I know wants a pet or a baby, or has recently lost a pet or a baby, & wants again. If I want anything at all it’s an uninterrupted night’s sleep, but I’m not even sure about that.

Because in bed, my son, curled small beside me, turned toward me, said, You’re most beautiful in the night-light dark. Then he brushed his hand along my jaw. Someday he'll be someone’s lover.

Because grown-ups dressing in costume always seem like sadder versions of the selves they could’ve been.

Because when my son wants to hurt me, he says, You always forget everything. Because he knows it isn’t true; my memory dangerously intact, every texture a detail called back.

Because there’s a woman who’ll tell me the window’s spindles are architectural. She’s not a liar, just wrong. I’ll say, They’re to keep us from jumping. I’ll say, I unscrewed the hardware. Because I wouldn’t have said, I tore the spindles off after I stripped the screws, though it would be true. But if I did, would she have said, But the cement below? Would I say, And?

Because the last living elevator operator will probably retire to a bedroom community of ranch homes in the tornado-plains. He’ll open the door for no one, never call out another floor.

Because, hesitant, I bring home the remains of the praying mantis wrapped in paper for my son, a gift from someone who knew I’d given him a microscope. After he carefully peeled off the tape, he backed away. Because gulping words he managed to say, I didn’t know it would be dead.

Because it’s August & already I’m wearing my winter hands.

Because people in grocery stores a week before payday, their shoulders a parking lot of fear.

Because about South Dakota, my friend said, Everything looked so thirsty. Eyeing the sporting goods near the guns & bullets, the lures & bait, he said, There should be an ocean there.

Because when my son holds his warm hand against my cold one, his fingertips nearly reach around mine. Because when I tell him sometimes I miss him being small, he says, Someday there’ll be a machine to take us back there.


Because the building itself, not-yet-relic, not-yet-monument, stood object, stood art, a thing of beauty & function where we could live, where books that lined the shelves of any one room never meant decoration, where we learned by heart, typed by hand the lines of another until they became ours, & we could say, Listen, could say, Shhh, & mean it. Frank Gehry wanted to make buildings like Morandi painted bottles, those little cities of shadow & shape where we could’ve stayed.

Because we want not nearly so much: a place where the light lasts, all of us together, side-by-side, our shoulders near enough to touch, you helping our friend into his too-thin coat, my tugging your scarf up to hide your neck from this wind, or, when the electricity dims in one of us, another able to stack the wood in the fireplace to keep those rooms warm, or just near enough, in those cities of glass, for me to touch your hair as if to say, There there.

Because maps don’t help. When there’s only the long staring ahead to the edges of us, everything becomes horizon, it’s harder to remember the topography, how we arrived in the middle, here, where grief stays & stays. Like the wind of this day knocking against a gone-ness we can’t undo, we’ll never be somewhere anyone wants to be.

Because we’ll never be somewhere anyone can stay, or stay long enough. Now, we busy our hands, purposeful-less though we feel. We’ll start a list of things we’ll learn about to make winter bearable. It’ll begin, rooftop gardening. Or it’ll begin with a naming of parts: pocket door, banister, picture window, transom, cornice, cabinetry, turret, eave, circuitry, soffit, flue.


Because the doughnut shop’s a gyro place now—though I never cared much for either—& just as I’m turning in, its windows stay dark.

Because other windows are also dark. Because one movie theater's a church, another’s boarded over & for lease. Because the mall’s a nearly-empty parking lot, & the real lot’s a used-car dealer, & even my son’s conceded to calling all of it sad.

Because when the palace of a Carnegie burned here they put up something temporary until they could do it right. Sixty years later, the makeshift second story is held up by beams that double as the first-floor stacks, & some people think this is more than any of us deserve.

Because I started to write a letter that began, Dear city of my heartache. That ended. That no one read. That got lost in the mail.

Because I yanked the handle off the overpriced fridge we bought last year, & when trying to re-hang the sucker, noticed the screws already stripped, must’ve come that way. Which made me think about the factory that made refrigerators, the one that hauled off & headed someplace not here.

Because I sat through the fabric of a chair the other morning & dragged the whole thing to the curb. Because the light bulbs keep burning out & there’s nowhere to recycle them. Because more often than not I buy something that breaks just as I finish peeling off adhesive beneath the price tag. Because temporary. Because impermanent. Because the only love I know seems to be store-bought, & businesses just keep folding.

Because when I point to a hole in the wall the end table has dug, or to how the floors are spitting up slivers more & more, my husband says, It’s our house, remember? It’s okay. Let’s just live in it. Maybe the half-life of everything just became a quarter-life. Maybe the sign I passed along the highway, the one whose arrow pointed to a town called my name, is more than I can commit to. Turn right to find me, it said. I threw the car into fifth, kept going forward.

Because tonight, my son said, Remember how once you told me that when it’s night here it’s day somewhere else, across an ocean. Coming out of sleepiness to hear him I nodded. And the sun, he wanted to know, doesn’t it get tired? If it’s anything like us, sure. We can hope it isn’t anything like us. That means a day is really long, isn’t it? Yeah, a day goes on & on. Because it does.

Because the basement floor of my son’s elementary school is made of dirt. Because mold. Because asbestos. Because the gymnasium substitutes for the cafeteria, the cafeteria the assembly hall, & his speech therapist twice a week unlocks the door to her office that used to be a closet where the mops lived.

Sunday, July 1, 2012