Pink flowering begonia borders the front door. Pansy petals overlap a blur of color around the base.
White York roses climb the trellis, open petals at the urging of the light.
Pinnate leaves of sweat pea hem the side windows and a marble hummingbird forever prods their nectar with its beak.
Strange how a death in the family changes none of this.
Late afternoon sun can find no sorrow in the shades, the windows, the attic dormer and the eaves.
We were all meant to live is my only conclusion.
Ken and I got drunk on the same night in New York. He did it with his usual panache, up at the bar, downing shot after shot, joshing with the bartender while wailing his favorite Dominic Behan songs. His big voice shook the tavern. I, on the other hand, drank alone in a Lower East Side hotel, just me and a rough suitcase wrapped in rope and yet to be unpacked. I looked out the window at the street below, wondering why she didn’t come, the dark-haired Italian girl from Queens. I gave her the address and room number. Ken had little time left to live though he didn’t know it then. His liver was already like a lump of rotting meat in a jar of sulfuric acid. I was still on life’s launching pad though I felt like, without Josie, I’d be lost to love forever. He was full of passion and melody and I could not have been any more mute and brutally hard on myself. I figured I deserved these surrounds—bedside table, filthy lamp, washbasin, no TV. My sole company was a bottle of cheap wine and a metal key attached to a block of wood. What would Josie have thought if she did show up? I was not the young man I pretended to be in her company, but a wreck with hands trembling, eyes like a fish with the hook removed, getting an early start on the darkness. I wish I could reminisce like Ken. The past rolled off his tongue: green hills of Galway, sparse houses, patchwork potato fields, and the pubs. Always the pubs. And the good people. His journey was a constant search for good people. I knew his favorite spots. I promised myself I’d meet him there later and maybe we’d sing a duet. But I fell asleep clutching a solitary bottle, down to its dregs. Come morning I was sick as I was sure Ken was. Only he was one step closer to death. And I had to make sense of myself and move on. I never saw Josie again. I met up with Ken the next night. After a few rounds, he slapped my back and said I was good people. And coming from Ken...
She had such energy in her tiny body. And her eyes were an extravagant blackish-blue. She led me to believe that I lived my life partly in that swirling crystal ball of hers. The only difference was, within that glass, I could get ahead of myself while she bore witness. Her deep Romanian voice did much to enforce the lines she spoke. And who could possibly doubt a woman adorned in such a colorful head scarf. Toss in her flowing dress and she was halfway to being legendary. And there I was listening to tales of myself that actually went forward for that moment unlike the ones from my family circle that lambasted me so cruelly with my doubtful present and my depressing past. She nodded. She even smiled. I could not see myself but I was looking better all the time. For those who’ve never felt the urge or were too nervous to take a chance, a half-hour with a fortune teller in a tent or storefront is more enlightening than social media, more therapeutic than a visit with a therapist. There’s women out there who know what’s going to happen in the days to come. So what if they dress like extras from The Werewolf. “You will lead a long and happy and prosperous life,” she told me. It was too early to praise her for her foresight. I thanked her understanding instead.
I never make my bed or dump the butts from the ashtray and I don’t even smoke, or replace the burned-out light bulb when one of a pair is bright enough for me, or replace the washer in the leaking faucet and, if I comb my hair, it’s merely by accident.
I can’t bother looking neat and prosperous whether it’s the almost knee-less jeans I wear, the fading Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt, or the mismatched furniture in every room of my apartment.
There has to be a reason to thin out the clutter, drag a green bag of clothes to the laundromat, sweep up those shards of potato chip that outline the kitchen floor.
I don’t know where to go for caring that dirty dishes accumulate in the sink or pizza boxes overwhelm the trash bin, and my shirts have more rings around their collar than the planet Saturn.
Someone suggests I need a good woman. But I had one once. You’ve never seen such dust accumulate.
JohnGrey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in Plainsongs, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River Review