For Terry

This month The High Calling and Tweet Speak have collaborated on a prompt to bring a study of conversations to the awareness of writers and photographers. As an additional challenge, Tweet Speak poets have been writing some gorgeous sestinas about everything from avoirdupois (yes) tea caddies to the aforementioned conversations with melancholic husbands and a “dear unreasonable poet.”  

I’ve written a couple of sestinas. I love the way end words drip through the subconscious like a rain that seems random but is, in the end, specifically poured.

Today my conversation poem is not a sestina. Obviously. 

For Terry

The big white dog smelling of skunk greeted me and the screen door stuck, gave way, the preacher sat on the couch with some others who rose when I entered to say they were leaving but not without a prayer, the kind where we all hold hands and someone declares a lot, “dear lord.”

The lazy-boy was full now of Sue and Downer, the small dog, and Sue passing the phone to Jack, and Sue telling the story of how he died, forgetting the names of days but recalling his needs by the hour, the coffee ground vomit, the filling of containers, the back pain, and aspiration.

Ana softly told the science of his death while Jack paced in the kitchen on the phone with a cousin who could help by talking so he did. Sue mentioned that she would tell Ana’s story to Terry, because surely he would be home soon; he had been coming home for 42 years.

Conversations when fathers die usually involve pets, specifically the cat, whose nerve problem recently received little attention, and also nieces, the last athletic-tape-wrapped wiffle ball he ever pitched, thirty photos for the slide show, and when children stick their hands in pies.

And conversations like these may last years or end with monumental truths: Downer enjoys wontons.  Sue’s new rock from Africa is safe in a pill bottle. Terry could tease us all to solid laughter.  Love and death come sometimes like goats in trees or with the humpback timing of minks.


~ by Kate on July 27, 2011.

4 Responses to “For Terry”

  1. I’m so glad you shared this. It is *random acts of poetry* after all, so the prompt is optional. This “not a sestina” is beautiful.

    The goats in trees and the minks are startlingly wonderful images.

    • Thanks for reading and responding, L.L. The goats and minks are not images I could have made up to fit this situation. Instead, the goats were a part of the conversation (but I can’t remember why) in that space a few hours after death when words have different weights than normal. And I saw the mink on my drive home–an image I couldn’t ignore.

  2. This reads like a prose poem.

    Two standouts: “humpback timing of minks” and the simile “like goats in trees” . Would like to see how you might use these in a poem.

    • Thanks for commenting, Maureen. I loved the suspended feeling of your forgetting sestina. I can address the minks a little now, but I don’t think I’m done with them. The goats have to wait for another day.

      Ozark Lament

      Your stubborn hills
      are harder now to dig
      than in the dead
      winter. Brittle grasses
      give the only testament
      to your slow
      working roots.

      Your fathers are failing
      with the humpback
      timing of minks in dry creeks,
      filling churches
      with whole
      towns beneath
      vain fans.

      Your heat causes chickens
      to pant, and makes the low
      sound of a molted
      fiddle. Stars and cicadas
      are worthless change
      now, and small:
      heaps of foul copper.

      …or maybe without the adjectives?:


      Your hills are harder than the dead winter—
      Only brittle things say you have roots.

      Your fathers fail with the humpback timing
      of minks, filling churches with whole towns in rows .

      Your heat makes chickens pant, makes
      the mourning of a molted fiddle.

      Your stars and cicadas are small change—
      Foul pennies you can’t even use.

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