It's bad luck to send such handsome photos
of the children. Don't draw attention
to good fortune; the Fates wait with plastic
hammers to smash the heads of fools who smile
too brightly, shout too gleefully. Pass on all
chain letters. Knock on wood. Let someone else
volunteer to fly the flag of reason;
it's not you they'll drown, but those you love.
But the call to crow is so alluring:
the chorus of Mi, mi, mi, mine, mine, mine,
my gifted scribe, scholar, soccer striker,
the fragile face of youth and promise.
No. Stifle pride. Keep their heads low. Understate.
Compliment your neighbor. Buy another year of joy.
I. An old friend emails a joke:
"Pedro drives in a sweat. He has an important meeting
and can't find a parking space. Looking up to heaven, he says:
'Lord, take pity. If you find me a parking place
I will go to Mass every Sunday and give up tequila.'
Miraculously, a space appears. Pedro looks up again:
'Never mind,' he says. 'I found one.'"
At the top Jeannie writes: "I think I'm a lot like Pedro!!"
II. She hadn't emailed in months except for apologies:
"Sorry I missed your birthday. I'll send a present soon."
And then: "Bad news. I have breast cancer. Surgery. Chemo.
Depression. Didn't Anne survive this?" We email back;
my wife, five years from chemo, leads. I follow,
cheer the clean lymph nodes, praise medicine's progress.
Two weeks later her gift arrives: a framed page from her wedding-present/
recipe-book from friendsa picture of a tuxedoed, Brill-Creamed, bleary-eyed,
G-and-T-toting, thirty-years-ago me under the title "Stewed Jack." Below
a recipe asks for ice, gin, tonic, bitters and me. "Insults 12 to 15,"
read the serving directions. "Remember those days?" Jeannie writes.
III. Anne hides the picture from our kids. I take the dog for a walk.
Cancer makes you notice things: the still-turning-trees, crumbled walls,
rows of shuttered colonials. My old golden retriever leads,
sniffing each sewer drain and tree root. Ahead I can hear birds,
grackles, hundreds of them, resting on their October trip south.
Their anarchy chorus dials up to max. Kelly's ears perk up
as we near the rising din. Neither of us can see them,
but we know they're theresmall and black, dotting a yard or a tree:
a separate and connected mesh waiting to rise into rippling black net.
We hold tight the rise of waiting in our chestsstep-by-step
across browning yards, the heat of our working bodies fends off the breeze –
holding, holding until in random moment the grackles rise
a swarming, speckled fabric of clamor from yards to trees to blue, blue sky.
In an instant they are gone.