Why Poetry: The Story Knows, 7

Says Laura Boggess:

I started this little story as I waited for Maureen Doallas’s Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems. I had been so looking forward to the release of the book, had ordered it the second I heard it was available–and then was frustrated by what seemed like a terribly long delivery (it was only a few days, but felt much longer). It was very windy that week–I watched religiously for the mailman each day amidst flying little bits of this world–leaves, papers, my neighbor’s flag. As I waited, I entertained myself with the story of Amy Pinkleberry–a young divorcee who struggles with depression. Amy’s depression is characterized by auditory hallucinations–destructive voices that prevent her from finding the happiness she so longs for. Only one thing stops the voices and that is…well, you’ll just have to read on to find out…

Waiting on Neruda’s Memoirs

“Read it again.”

Justine dipped her head and puckered her lips to the corner of the carry-out cup. The whipped cream made a mustache on her upper lip and Amy laughed. White Mocha Latte. The old woman had sighed over one just yesterday and Amy couldn’t wait to surprise her with it this morning.

Justine rolled her eyes into the back of her head as she sipped.

“Oh, dear. Thank you so much for this little treat this morning, Amelia. I’ve always said that a good coffee makes poetry sweeter. Mmmmm.”

They sipped quietly—Justine her sweet concoction and Amy her Café au Lait.

“Go ahead,” Justine repeated. “Read it again.”

“You always want that one.”

“You know I love it. But, I have a story to go with it today. I remembered it last night.”

This had become their habit. Amy had been reading to Justine for four weeks now, five days a week. On the days when Justine felt well, after each poem, she would share a memory with Amy. Amy listened, sometimes asked questions, but she knew the stories were more for Justine than for her. So she let her talk as much as she wanted.

“All right then, here goes:

What I really like

is how words
aren’t needed

to hold in mind

the slant the sun takes
when it pitches
a fit

of rays on the sea
at dusk

or the cut-through line
at the horizon’s edge

once you’ve pulled back
and turned
for one last look

at the world

you’ve traveled to
and through

to reach home.

Amy waited. Justine took a shaky breath and set down her latte.

“I was a new bride when I first saw the sea. George’s construction business was growing, but we still hadn’t much money for a holiday. He rented us a small cottage on the shore and we spent a week learning the rhythm of married life from the steady beat of the Atlantic. The beaches were different then—not so busy, much quieter. We were married in March, so the tourist season had not quite started yet. My George was an athlete and every morning he would get up before the sun and swim in that cold ocean. I could barely stand to wade in the stuff, but I would wander myself awake in the surf as he swam…picking up little bits of the ocean as I waited for my new husband to finish his morning constitutional.

One morning, I sat on the cool sand waiting. The sun was beginning to show the top curve of her head—all brilliant red and orangy glow. He emerged from the water just as she started her ascension. It looked like he carried the sun on his head as he splashed toward me. And in typical George fashion, he had to get his wet all over me, reducing me to a fit of giggles right there before God and everyone.”

She was quiet for a moment, lost in the memory.

“That morning I said something to George that would stick for the rest of our marriage. George Taylor, I said, did you know the sun rises and sets on you? And we sat together and watched her slow climb.”

Justine set her coffee down on the breakfast tray at the bedside and lay back against her pillows.

“What I wouldn’t give to see the ocean one more time before I die.”

She studied her hands, avoiding Amy’s eyes. The old woman had never shared a story about her husband before and Amy was unsure what to say.

“You must have loved him very much.”

When Justine looked up, her eyes were brimming with tears.

“Yes, yes I do.”

She smiled weakly and put her hand over Amy’s where it rested on Neruda’s Memoirs.

“Thank you for listening to an old woman’s ramblings. You are so easy to talk to, Amelia. I never used to talk so much. But then…George has been gone for twenty-seven years now. The Lord took him far too soon. Not a day has passed that I haven’t thought of him. But I am thinking of him more and more these days. I am ready to see my husband again.”

She looked up with shining eyes. At the thought of losing Justine, Amy felt panic. She had only just found her. Even though it was short, their time together had filled a lacuna inside of her that she didn’t know was there. She was grateful for the old woman’s friendship.

Amy hesitated.

“Justine…is it certain? I mean, isn’t there something the doctors can do? You don’t seem so bad off to me, I mean…”

Justine patted Amy’s hand.

“Oh, sweetheart, yes it is certain. I have outlived all of their predictions. I have been battling this cancer for ten years now. I’ve had chemo and radiation and in the beginning I wanted to fight. But it kept coming back. I’m eighty-two years old, Amelia. I’m tired. This bed is my life now. I am too weak to be moved. My bones are too fragile. I am ready for this to end.”

Amy was surprised to feel tears on her cheeks. Justine lifted a gnarled finger and smoothed the wet away. Her skin was surprisingly soft on Amy’s face and she cupped the younger woman’s chin in her hand. Her milky eyes searched intently.

“Don’t you worry about me. You need to worry about you. You have given me so much joy, Amelia. But you have much better things to do than read poetry to an old woman. You still have a whole lot of living to do.”

Amy shrugged Justine’s hand away and wiped her eyes.

“Do you want to hear that poem again?”

“Sure, why not? It gets better each time you read it.”

So Amy read the poem again. And as she imagined the young sun ascending into the sky, aging in the slow journey across the arc of the earth, arriving at dusk with all its purples and blues—arriving home…

She knew what she had to do.

To be continued…

Photo by Gemma Stiles, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Story by Laura Boggess. Reprinted with permission.

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3
Read Part 4
Read Part 5
Read Part 6
Read Part 8
Read Part 9
Read Part 10
Read Part 11
Read Part 12


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