The Appropriate Cold
Your death fell with a thud that bruised the rest of us.
Now I’m homesick for a winter we can’t return to in a state
I’ve long left and you rarely visited, the appropriate cold
I don’t feel here. The Fleetwood, a metalbox diner nesting
in snow, blue streetlit sidewalks on the approach, the belief
every friend would age a thousand years with me.
The crystalline crunch of Michigan, the hush of Michigan,
the lullaby night told its followers. When you kill
yourself you have to stop living. I imagine the colors
sharpened on the ascent. Was there a pull
or a peace? If you could be a great blue heron—
neck curved as you fly, at home in the marshes,
at home flying through trouble—I’d still want you human
again. It might be impossible and cruel to say
but there is a grid of ice (layers of treachery)
coating the earth and I want you walking across it.
Claude Howell’s Apartment, on Display at the Cameron Art Museum
For an hour, I move in, half expecting Claude
to walk down the hallway of his uprooted home
and find me seated at his round white table, reading
his diary. Like a self-interested voyeur, I search
the volumes for my own biography.
Claude had sex with Irl Wentz the night before I was born,
recounted in a short, satisfied entry on November 4, 1985.
The day my sister Becca was born, Claude had a loose tooth,
ate soup, spent the day reading his own diaries
from ’46 and ’47. Looking back, he finds his own life
incredible, the travel and guests and art, all creations.
There is no entry for my partner Dory’s birthday
on July 20, 1979, or the next day, or the next. On the 23rd,
he explains why: jury duty. Days sitting and waiting
with Italian guidebooks, finally disqualified because he knew
everyone involved with every trial, too famous,
or maybe too integral, a man from Wilmington
the curators can call a “city boy.” Outside the apartment
is another exhibit. One of his Books of People sits under glass,
opened to a happy night in April when Diana, Doug, and Barbara
read the Book, drew themselves reading it, drank,
and the mirror showed Diana stars.
I want to sign it too, on February 2, 2013,
to record the event of his home turning into art.
I want to visit whenever I want, to visit after 5,
when the museum closes but his salon opened.
A good guest says thank you and takes what is offered,
and the offerings here are from history.
I still need to look up what Claude was doing on the days
my parents were born, on the days my grandparents died.
But my recent memories will have no parallel, and this apartment is an illusion
to be dismantled in April. While it isn’t under glass
it is so temporary, will soon be another place I used to go.
My body went leaden one evening last month,
pressed for several hours into a stranger’s heavy house.
The mother of my friend, she’d lost her husband, her mother.
In the driveway, her daughter had warned of bitterness,
but that was no preparation for the clutter—
confined to the interior yet threatening to spill over.
Stacks narrowed the hallways, towering duplicates.
Every jewelry box a loss, the settling of dust,
the magazine clippings fanned out on the carpet,
the army of dead-eyed dolls gazing stoically at nothing.
She startled me by discussing Goodwill and yard sales and options,
the digging out she’s sane enough to almost want.
Even small talk felt intrusive. In my peripheral vision,
bills strewn across the floor. In my hands,
a can of citrus soda cold but flat.
At home I could breathe again, still the panic.
Stand in the center of the living room and reach only for air.
I want to warn myself against her mistakes:
All my years and all my money, no telling what moment
might addict me to the task of sacrificing every blessed space.
I guess at how some decades might last and last,
imagine potential accumulations. Even in happiness
I’ll want time for one last big cleaning before I die,
don’t want to slip away thinking
These piles we left for the children,
our love among these crumbling mountains.
I want to keep clear surfaces. I’m afraid
of what a person can cost themselves, afraid of collections
that seem to insist upon their own necessity.
I want to die clean and cool, like good water.
My weight only the flesh of family and self, a lightness
elsewhere, the promise of calm—
forgiven the sins that bound me, delighted, to earth.
Kathleen Jones is a writer and designer who lives and works in Wilmington, North Carolina. She has an MFA in poetry from UNC Wilmington, and her work is available in Rust + Moth, Meridian, Grist Online Companion, and more. Find her on Twitter @kathleenejones