by Cal Freeman
I want a different year in clean white snow.
I want the rapid senescence afforded the possum
before trauma. Just before that moment of collapse.
It’s not for play. It’s so it can’t remember what befalls it.
A possum does not play. I want my father back.
I want a different father with the same tastes
and the same loves. I want a different flower
than what blooms in the boxwood hedges
without germination. I want to read the book
Melville’s Final Voyage which my father owns in a dream.
I’m not a seafarer, but I’m not faring well,
I want to say. The snow that fell as heavy slush
early in the day has turned to eider down.
People move and of course the mounds of snow
drift and the plows drive like nobody exists.
When the streets are revealed, they’re irrevocably changed,
cratered like the moon or the bottom of a sea.
A neighbor offered me her snow blower,
but I prefer shovel marks knife-edge to the driveway.
It’s hard to imagine what the phrase “coming back”
must’ve meant once. To have it mean anything
one would have to watch the plow returning
and not have picked up the trajectory of the turn
before the vehicle began coming back.
One would have to want to have a different life
in clear white snow and want a different bloom
than the one created by the snow that February day
along the boxwood hedgerows with wine
in the decanter and thought-heavy thoughts
for the ones who left us in the garden. My voice hissing
through clenched teeth. I want a different echo
than the possum. I want a different name.
For as long as I can remember
I’ve been both annoyed and haunted by my name.
I don’t think this is a unique relationship
to have to one’s name. I imagine everyone
is at times annoyed and at other times haunted
by their names, but I dwell on mine far too much.
Others are even brave enough to change them,
and I’m not talking about some monosyllabic nom de plume
haphazardly applied, but legally change them.
My name is why it takes me so long to clear the car,
to broom it off before starting it and scraping the windows.
These are too many names and numerals for one life,
but they’re so indelibly correct that I hum them
in the cold snow and again in the warm car.
It’s what I don’t know back there at the root
and am too listless to learn that does the haunting.
It’s who I don’t know. It’s the theology of Jean Cauvin
and how he came to be known as John Calvin.
The prevenient grace some of them have been afforded.
I give up a little more every day. I drive to Bar 342
for corned beef sliders. I read Fanny Howe’s Second Childhood
as I sip Canadian Club whiskey and wait for my lunch.
The man next to me has a voice like a half-empty matchbox
rattling itself awake. He doesn’t know how
he’s doing yet. He’s here to retrieve a car
left in the parking lot. He asks if the Howe
is my AA booklet. John John John John I read
in “Between Delays.” I underline the four instances
of my name with a Keno pencil.
John is his name too, I find out, and his voice
isn’t like a matchbox I decide as I note the slack skin
around his throat, it’s more like an accidental whisper,
a light breeze over dying wheat. I tell him I’d have flunked out
within a few hours, but I’ve got step one down
(I don’t think you can actually flunk out of their program).
I read a poem called “Loneliness,” scarf down my sliders,
and pay my tab. There’s too much data in this place—
Keeno screens, an internet jukebox, a baby shower
with a chicken wing buffet. There’s too much data
in the enjambed lines of the book, what a friend of mine
has called “hangnail stanzas,” for me to latch onto
anything other than my name and this personification
of loneliness that might engage such a name in actions
like clearing snow and driving to lunch.
John follows me out. A green balloon is trapped
in the door handle. He warns me not to pop it.
He paraphrases the Book of John as he lights a cigarette,
says the truth will set me free. John’s my name, he explains,
and that’s from the Book of John and I should try to live
my life by the idea that the truth will set you free.
I thank him. I don’t tell him how homonyms ensnare us
or how the sunlight on ragged snow renders the romance
of hunkering down remote. It’s too easy to drive now.
For anyone to truly come back the road would have to adopt
a chronology of hours. I don’t want the road to adopt
a chronology of hours. I could be going out
for all they know. They who paved this road with too many miles.
The more of it they plow, the less of me spins out.
There’s an elegance to Zeno’s paradox that circumvents
the civic mind and a loveliness to leftover weather
that one mustn’t lose in the sun.
I need to have my tires rotated, something. A good barroom
needs good haruspices the way prophecy needs a self to fulfill
its self-fulfilling augurs. They don’t have to do much
but observe the damage and guess right.
I’ll heat my liver for a reading any afternoon.
[Cal Freeman is the author of the books Poolside at the Dearborn Inn (R&R Press, 2022) and Fight Songs (Eyewear, 2017). His writing has appeared in many journals including The Oxford-American, Commonweal, The Journal, New Orleans Review, and Posit. He currently serves as music editor for The Museum of Americana: a Literary Review.]