Sun In Days

By Meghan O'Rourke b. 1976 Meghan O'Rourke
1

I tried to live that way for a while, among
the trees, the green breeze,
chewing Bubblicious and by the edge of the pool      spitting it out.
The book open on my chest, a towel
at my back      the diving board thwoking,
and leaving never arrived      Cut it out
my mother said     my brother
clowning around with a water gun     Cut it out.
The planes arrowed into silence, fourteen,
fifteen, sixteen, always coming
home from summer     over the bridge to Brooklyn.
The father stabbed on Orange Street,
the Betamax in the trash,
the Sasha doll the dog chewed up, hollow
plastic arms gaping. Powdered pink lemonade,
tonguing the sweet grains
                                                       liquid-thick.
I could stand in that self   for years
wondering is it better to
anticipate than to age     Imagining
children with five different men,
a great flood that would destroy
your possessions     and free you to wander.
Bathing suits and apples and suntan oil
and a mother bending over you
shadow of   her face on yours. It’s gone,
that way, the breeze, the permanent pool.
A father saying “ghost” and the sheets
slipping off   the oak tree’s bough.
When I wake, leaves
in the water. You could say green
forever and not be lying.


2

The pond near the house in Maine
where we lived for one year
to “get away” from the city     the pond
where the skaters     on Saturdays came,
red scarves     through white snow,
voices drawing near and     pulling
away, trees against the clouds. Trying to live
off   the land for a while. Too hard
in the end my father said.     What did he say?
Forget it     you weren’t listening     He wore
fishing overalls most days and stank of   guts.
Our shouts slipping, the green garbage cans
edging the white scar pond,
so many days like secrets about to be
divulged . . .
                                         White snow;
to stink of   fish guts but     to be trying
to live:               the pond near the house
and the sound of   voices     drawing near.

As you aged you got distracted, indebted.
In the hospital around my mother
the machines     beeped,
the long leads of   the heart monitor,
drooping parabolas.
It’s not worth dying for     she said. What
was it she meant? Swollen shells, the desiccated brown
seedpods we used to pinch onto our noses
and skate about     putting on airs.
Then the books opened
their pages and with our red woolen
scarves flying and the Freezy Freakies’
once-invisible hearts reddening
into the cold we disappeared.
Evian bottles skitter against the chain-link fence.
It’s gone     that way     the green
planes arrowing into silence     gum wrappers
slipping to the ground.
O wild West Wind     be thou our friend
and blow away the trash.
Salvage us from     the heap of our making and
Cut it out my mother said     Stop worrying
about the future, it doesn’t
belong to us and we don’t belong to it.


3

The surface more slippery, slick
and white the ice. I stand at the pond’s edge
gather the information     darkening there
hello algae     hello fish pond
my mind in the depths     going.
On the beach I dig, tunnel
to the hands of   the woman who stitched
this red shirt     holes all the way to China.
It got so easy to     get used to it,
the orchestration of meaning
against the night, life
a tower you could climb on
not a junk heap     pale picture books
yellowing on the shelves. It got
so     I close my eyes
and walk along the hospital hall.
The iris quivering in the March light,
a nurse taking my mother’s pulse
not paid enough to help us
as we wished to be helped. And your hope
left behind     turning the pages of   magazines,
the models in Prada. As a girl
it was a quest, to feel exploded every second,
pudding pops     and Vietnam vets
standing on the corner shaking their Styrofoam
cups.     Holding her
cup my mother stands, petting the dog,
it’s 1982     the sun tunneling in     she drinks her coffee
Cut it out or     Forget it or     Hello.
Look, I’ve made a telephone for us.
Put that cup to your ear, and I’ll put it to mine,
and listen     I just need to find
one of those Styrofoam cups
and what about you     where did you
go what kind of night is it there
electric synthetic blackened or burnt.


4

At night they come to you
distorted and bright, like an old print on a light box,
present,     present,          not quite.
Are we inventing them as we sleep,
or are they still     happening
in a time we can’t touch?
The hockey game on the blue
tv glowing and slowing     I come home
to a man slumped on the couch not-quite-saying
a greeting     all the gone ones there
the slap of skates     all gone
and the commentator it’s going on forever
the blade moving along rink
says What a slapshot what a shot.
You make a life, it is made of days and
days, ordinary and subvocal, not busy
becoming what they could be,               dark furlings of
tiny church feelings, mysterious, I mean,
and intricate like that high-windowed light —

intricate and mysterious          I come home.

Near our house we hung out
on the Promenade after school the boys smoking
the security systems in the Center blinking     a disco
party blue red / blue red the East River
reflecting scraped sky     cornices and clouds
we could hear the roar of cars across
it and taste the chemical air
of   the offices the fathers worked in
we’d been there to pick them up
for the long weekend in the Catskills
the hum-gray computers, the ibm Selectrics
massive on the desks, eleven, twelve,
thirteen, riding the graffitied subways,
flirting, the boys     grabbing us calling     hey     hey.
Changeable one day to the next.
Jon talking of atheism
blond hair in strips          At night the bomb mushrooming
over the Statue of   Liberty, white
blinding everywhere.          Oh, she said, don’t worry
just a dream          just a dream.
Everyone is scared of   Russia.
Imagine          she laughed     We used to
have to hide under our desks!

Forget it     you weren’t listening     I was trying
Don’t worry it gets you nothing
to tell you something     the air cold
the maples bare your mother pregnant
Come on the horses are     past the window
with a son much younger than you
of   the house she rode them past
the river where all the Catholic kids sailed ice boats
uncles taking cash to wire home to Ireland.
The future isn’t here yet, it’s always
going to be,     but I’m holding you,
walking the Promenade, thirty-six,
the ferry crossing the river again.


5

and for a while               rain on the dirt road
and the pastured gray horse     holding Chex Mix
up to its fuzzed mouth     pockets of   time
all summer     eating  ghosts in the arcade
Pac-Man alive quarter after quarter
I keep trying     Cut it out she said and
forget it     I was trying to tell you
my father cooking fish in the kitchen
licking his thumb     to turn the page.

In the meantime you try
not to go into a kind of exile —
Oh, you read too many books, says my friend
Dan     Here’s the tv. And the small voices
of children     enter the room, they sound
so narrow and light and possible. But
don’t you think we’re always making the same
standing at the car rental
kind of mistake we began by making
at the last minute, rushing to call
our fathers before setting off
for vacation.     It’s warmer
this August than it has been for decades.
Still the sun bathing us isn’t preposterous
or cold.          Grace: imagine it

and all the afterworld fathers sleeping
with their hair perfectly          combed
faces mortician-clean
unlike
                                        the ones they wore.
In the motel Reagan on tv     his hair
in that parted wave     the milk prices up,
my mother says, inflation.     Key Food
on Montague, the linoleum tiles dirty and cracked,
the dairy case goose-pimpling my skin.
Those tiles are still there.
She is dead now     and so is he.
I know it seems bare to say it
bare to     bare linoleum tiles.

You who come after me
I will be underfoot but     Oh,
come off it, start again. We all live
amid surfaces and                    and I
wish I had the     Start over     Come on thou
Step into the street, amidst
the lightly turning trash,
your hair lifting in the wind     Remember
I have thought of   you
the lines of our skates converging
in a future etc. etc., the past
the repository of   what can be salvaged, grace
watering the basil
                                       on the windowsill, until
the day comes of   looking back at it all,
like a projectionist at a movie
slipping through the reel, the stripped sound of   time —

I tried to live that way for a while
Bubblicious and          spitting it out
Only forget it you          were
if   I could hear your voice     again     I could pretend
Rise and shine she called in the
morning     Rise and shine
leaves in the water     intricate and
the dying Dutch elms the cool blue pool
pockets of    time          Sun-In bleaching our hair
the faces they wore     arcade ghosts
and lilacs by the door in Maine
where she leaned     close to me     said smell
the planes buzzed     a purple light     fingers
sticky if   I could only hear it
again     you could say forever     tonguing
the sweet grains     you could say forever     and not be

Source: Poetry (September 2013).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2013
 Meghan  O'Rourke

Biography

Poet, essayist, and memoirist Meghan O’Rourke was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1976.  She is a graduate of Yale University and holds an MFA in writing from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina.  From 2005-2010 O’Rourke was poetry co-editor for the Paris Review, and in 2000 she was a fiction editor for the New Yorker.  Since 2001 she has been a contributing writer for the online magazine Slate
 
O’Rourke’s books . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Health & Illness, The Body, Time & Brevity, Youth, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Series/Sequence

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