The Excess Stages of Grief
I’d pull up to the big intersection where Elm rams headlong
into crosstown four-lane traffic
and gape through the windshield. I was going somewhere I’d think,
the radio afroth, boiling love down to salt and tallow.
This must be depression, I’d sing, nodding, turning for the pet store
where they kept cats in furnished, glass apartments.
But there’s that one stage where you start sweating at midnight
and don’t stop until after sunrise, clutching the battery
from the overloud wall clock like a vial of antidote.
I’d been in it for a month or two. And before that
the one where you tell people you fucked the sad blonde
from the pool hall when really you couldn’t get hard
and didn’t even care. What’s wrong? she’d asked, naked,
propped sideways on her elbow
so the streetlight through the shades couldn’t wrap itself fully
around her hips. There’s more to every naming
than even the spaces between the words. You could go to the doctor
like my ex did and they could say we think you’re making it up.
She had seizures in Walmart, in the car, in the middle
of teaching a class, but the diagnoses kept curving her back
until she closed her own circle and had to be cut down
from the ceiling with a pair of scissors. More, care is a willingness
to chase the unknown into places where it shouldn’t be,
to shout its name so the entire department store can hear
as you fling open the dress racks, riffle the innards of each freezer case.
Some people believe regret will give you cancer. Others,
that if you never love anyone you’ll live forever, like opening the heart
lets tiny puffs of air inside, like the blood dries up in its course
toward desire. Now, five years away,
I buy the window seat for a flight and look down,
not ready to die at first, then growing slowly comfortable with the idea.
You won’t even know, I tell myself, craning above the seatbacks
to see if anyone else’s resignation is as utterly obvious
as mine. A woman clutches her baby—
who will die—cooing into its face, and a pair of lonely people
donut their necks and tug sleep masks over their eyes
and I ponder if, like me, they’ve accepted the futility of existence or
if there’s a stoplight in them which simply blinks yellow
as though it’s midnight in the small town of Self Preservation
and the traffic rests in its driveways, unthinking.
And am I still grieving, then, if I can’t close my eyes
for even a second without wondering, calmly, is this
what it will be like? The wings slice through cumulus,
white tufts cling to the edges of the ailerons when, honestly,
I never imagined clouds could be harmed by anything manmade.
Colin Pope grew up in the Adirondacks. His first collection of poetry, Why I Didn’t Go to Your Funeral, is forthcoming in 2019 from Tolsun Books. It was a finalist for the 2018 Press 53 Award for Poetry and a semifinalist for the Sundress Publications Open Reading Period. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Denver Quarterly, Willow Springs, Slate, The Los Angeles Review, and Best New Poets, among others. Colin is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets prizes, and he serves on the editorial staffs of Cimarron Review and Nimrod International.