At Julienne’s restaurant the coffee came in huge mugs as I recall and the onion soup was in a class by itself and a person could be happier than expected. You climbed a long staircase and entered Julienne’s where the walls had a glow and sat there with Jessica or with Fred and everything was young and brimming and Jessica spoke her funny French and she warned me with her eyes not to over-notice Sylvia’s weirdly long fingernails which were a strategy for tolerating her warehouse job and Fred liked to talk fitness and could laugh about the factions in our theater group and the banana trifle dessert was excellent in an unfamiliar way and a young adult could be despite Vietnam and Nixon and sexism happy—though the brimmingness gave a ragged edge to our luck as if to insinuate that lunch at Julienne’s was temporary.
Plastic? Of course! It wasn’t a question. Everything was of course. When I tried to count how many plastic products I used in one day I lost count after fifteen. Definitely I tried, we tried, to recycle but there were awkward situations—in daily life— and I flew to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago on jets. I thought they flew by magic but it turned out they burned jet fuel. Go figure. And I drove, we drove, it was great to hit the highway it felt like such a release as in many great songs not sufficiently appreciated nowadays and we stayed nine miles per hour over the speed limit quite cleverly. Gliding along often we didn’t feel the tires were really touching the pavement. Life was smooth in ways we figured we had paid for. It was all of course; there was only a tiny closet in which we kept remorse. So now you give us that cold look as if from above, as if you wouldn’t have enjoyed what you accuse us of.
In the Other Room
I could hear Bev in the kitchen singing the refrain of the big finale number in that Broadway musical (1971) based on Two Gentlemen of Verona— “You can’t love another without loving yourself!”— singing this with a certain quaver or tinge of stress as if the boisterous show tune was for her not just a boisterous show tune— Bev already several years into her doomed struggle with cancer— she knew the struggle was consuming her energy, energy focused through so many years so fiercely on loving people she loved such as me in the living room distracted by my important personal concerns not understanding but sensing a truth alive and quavery somewhere in the house.
MARK HALLIDAY directs the creative writing program at Ohio University. His seventh book of poems, Losers Dream On, was published in 2018 by the University of Chicago Press.
Artwork by Austin Veldman.
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