Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

Solitude Variations

by John Krumberger


In Amsterdam the poet is hired to attend the funerals where no one else comes,
offering a poem for the unmourned:
illegal immigrants, drug mules, sex workers, lonely tourists, the forgotten old,
their footprints erased, no trace of how they arrived here.

Farewell sir,
without papers, without identity. What were you looking for?
How much did you lose along the way?

From the insular world of the car, I watched ghosts and goblins
complete their trick or treat rounds in each of the towns I passed
while I plunged deeper into the Driftless Region
on my way to the cloistered silence I thought I would live for….

though the holy atheists, Keats and Camus claimed me instead.
The character Tarrou in Camus’s THE PLAGUE
reveals to the doctor his desire to be a saint who doesn’t believe in God.
At the very end Camus warns “the plague bacillus never dies
or disappears for good.” And now it has returned this time in our country.

After the prophet’s time in the desert his daily bread tasted like ashes in his mouth
and flowing water dried to dust on his skin.
He seemed to begin to hate comfort even more than the worship of false Gods,
his eyes remaining open the rest of his life,
resisting the sleep of ordinary contentment.

Ye have built houses of hewn stone, but shall not dwell in them,
have planted pleasant vineyards, but shall not drink wine of them.
The day of Yahweh is a day of darkness and not a day of light….
or some such sentiment as he pressed another burning coal flush to his lips.

The last time the doctors cut inside, she heard bones crack
as they scraped the tumor. In the hospital gloom
she asks that I read a fragment by Keats:
“this living hand now warm and capable of earnest grasping.”
And then. Thank you. Everyone else treats me as if I am already gone.
They don’t know what to say so they avoid me.

Now when the fear of death disturbs,
I light candles and breathe in and out.
Still I’m not reassured.

The green heart of summer: wild buttercups, delphinium, Virginia bluebells,
black-eyed-Susan, a cloud of gnats, the deer studying me as slowly, slowly I
bicycle to the top of the bluff…

or the register at the summit of Glacier Peak, an icy wind taunting our triumph.
An embossed photo of a six-year-old boy next to where climbers sign their names.
What was his story –lonely sentinel exposed to every kind of weather?

-or the photograph of my father, his foot raised onto the running board
of a Packard Town Car, the victorious country looking toward the new decade,
steel of new buildings, asphalt of new highways poured out for suburbs
rinsed of history and burnished with convenience. He squints into the afternoon; white t-shirt, black hair, muscular physique, all saying Brando
though already the flashbacks are beginning to haunt his dreams.

He thinks I am asleep and stands in the dim hall touching himself.
I hear from the bath piss streaming into the bowl.
He has come back to us, half-moons recessed on his forehead
where electrodes were attached. The jagged current taught him to forget
so he wanders each room, the house breathing in, breathing out.

Burying the rabbit Sweet Pea in the yard.
I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love.
How did she survive the night we accidentally left her out alone,
waiting at the side porch door patient and forgiving as a Buddhist?
Now the transient arc of contentment curves toward an uncertain dark
that she’ll have to travel on alone.

She had the type of beauty too delicate for a town like that.
Years later in a chance encounter, she said to me Jesus loves me and he’ll love you too.
I wanted to ask who hurt her, who broke her but then I already knew.

Each time life feels too much to bear, a kindness visits me and I feel totally loved.
Margie wrote the words in a spiral notebook that Glenn found a year after her death.
She was better at dying than living, finding courage and purpose there
that she couldn’t find in the world. At their 25th anniversary, a kind of farewell gathering, she played Chopin’s spirit infused Prelude Number 4,
her face radiant, the notes lingering the way beauty touches us for a moment
and then is gone. Chopin, who sick most of his life once said
“My body is a disappointment to me. I pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Before his suicide the man splurged for a gourmet meal
at the restaurant adjacent to the theatre.
He finished a bottle of Sauvignon by himself,
drove to the Mississippi filling his pockets with rocks
like Virginia Woolf, then stepped into the current
receding into dark waters downstream. The waiter remembered
his quiet voice and the tip beyond generous.
His sister remembers his gentleness, his brilliance,
and vulnerability. She feared for more than twenty years
the call she finally received. I don’t belong here he once said.
How is it she knew even then, he was referring not to that crowd,
that room or even their family, but rather to the world?

Did the sight of olive trees outside the asylum press further upon Van Gogh
++++++or touch him from beyond this world?
Clearly, those gnarled limbs reach up to something in his yellow pulsating sky.
We are all ground between the millstones to become bread,
he wrote his brother Theo. Even face to face with an illness that breaks me up
and frightens me, this belief remains unshaken.