Summer 2000, Volume 18.0
Gailmarie Pahmeier is a graduate of the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Arkansas. Her literary awards include the Chambers Memorial Award, A Witter Bynner Foundation Poetry Fellowship, and two Artists Fellowships from the Nevada Arts Council. Her work has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies, and her most recent book is The House on Breakaheart Road (University of Nevada Press, 1998). She currently teaches creative writing and literature courses at the University of Nevada.
A Saturday Drive Toward Home
I eat powdered donuts from the box,
the sugar dusting my denim shirt.
You drive, sip coffee, fiddle with the radio.
Anyone who sees us at a stop sign
will think we're comfortable, two middle-aged
people out early. No one will know how
unsettled we feel, how eager we are
to fill our life with things. We're going to
garage sales, we're going antiquing.
I'm here this morning as your new lover,
and we're out to make a home together,
to furnish ourselves with a history
we have no time to create. There's an urgency
to our years, to our sense of common dream.
We'll load your truck all morning with our finds—
a hand-cranked ice crusher, a 1950's
highchair, a chaise lounge that'll cost a fortune
to reupholster. What we avoid
are the sad boxes of family photos
everyone seems willing to sell (that one
could be my German grandmother, prim
in her high collar, and that one could be
your great-uncle come down to town
from the Tennessee hills). We're honest enough
to know we need each other, know that we're
desperate for completion, but there's a boundary
to how far we'll go, how much of a bargain
to bargain for. So on this Saturday
we'll shop around, knowing at every stop
that this is surely that moment between
history and desire, that moment
which can only be filled with the feel
and smell of the familiar, and even
if it's earned in this dishonest way,
there's no turning back.
Letter Sent Home: Please Hand Cancel
You know what I'm talking about, you've seen
the headlines too—how So and So Collapses
in an airport, a doctor diagnoses
exhaustion—how So and So goes away
to rest, to reclaim some sense of self. I always
imagined this luxury of tiredness
affordable only to the rich, movie stars
and rock `n' roll celebrities, people
whose daily lives played out as documentary.
But now I know that's a lie, because
here I am on a spring morning so tired
I can taste a dream on my tongue. I've gone
away, left you to yard work, home maintenance,
the late afternoon walk to gather our mail.
I said I needed rest, a place to refuel.
I lied. I need much more than sleep, much more
than careless dreaming. Sometimes I lie so
much the truth's hard to tell and has a false
ring to it. Last night I dreamt we were making
love in the old hotel off Union Square, San Francisco.
We thrashed and clawed each other against
the rumble of delivery trucks below
our window, the sounds of a city
very much alive. Only after
we'd made our slow journey back into this
world did I look out the window, saw
the billboard—Ken Griffey, Jr., large as sky.
I knew then the dream was a lie, that I was
in the wrong city, with the wrong man, perhaps
even a bit player in someone else's
small blue dream. This is what some people call
a moment of truth, that tiny second
of clarity we liars hope to own but
only lease—no matter how earnestly,
no matter how often we pray. The truth,
in its raw, pure power truly's a gift
to be cradled. So there you have it .
I'll write again, I promise you that much.
Coming Home for the Cat
I know what you're going through. I know how
anyone who's loved a cat, allowed one
to sleep against her face, allowed one
to lay its full body along her outstretched
legs until they go numb, can grieve for months.
I once met a woman so attached
to her cat she couldn't imagine her
house without it, left the cat's body
on the coffee table, an honest wake,
until her grown son had had enough.
I know another who keeps her cat's ashes
on the mantle in a little cedar
box, In Loving Memory burned into
the lid, the cat dead some several years.
I even understand how hard it is
to get them to the vet. Cats, unlike dogs,
cannot be tricked into your truck.
And I understand because I used
to love a man who hurt me with his heart.
We had a cat. Sometimes I think if I
had not stopped loving him, if I had not
left for the arms of a boy who held me
as if I could break, that cat would be alive.
I would've been there to see the sores,
the open-mouthed breathing, I would've been
there to save her. That man saw nothing,
did little but bury her when she finally
gave in. At least that's something. I live
in another city now, too far away
to visit, but I'm sure she's an angel.
Yes, love for an animal can make you whole,
especially if it's all you've got for now.