We left the pizza parlor in San Rafael
with Mindy driving my Volkswagen Fox,
Rusty in the passenger seat,
Nancy and me together in back.
When I noticed she was leaning toward me,
I put my arm around her shoulder.
I didn’t notice where we were
when we started kissing.
When we got home,
Ella and Mindy went to the New Year’s Ball,
Rusty opened the rest of his Christmas presents.
Shortly after midnight, Nancy and I
made love for the first time in seven years.
I’m astonished how utterly perfect this feels.
I’ve never experienced lovemaking like this.
She’s so much more open and creative,
and so much prettier than she was
the last time I saw her nude.
A few more pounds makes her look just right,
with that cascade of red hair,
that look of love in her blue eyes—
I was going to write in my journal
about the progress of life with Nancy.
She loves me so much. She says
we have more in common than I think.
But the phone rings. It’s my father.
About an hour ago, my mother died.
Goodbye, Norma Miller.
I’ll miss you more than I can understand.
I’m alone. It feels apocalyptic.
I don’t feel the certainty
of life after death that I used to feel.
I’d best keep my skepticism to myself.
She’ll live on in my heart, while I’m alive.
I’d better take good care of Nancy.
I don’t understand her, but I love her.
I’m at the San Francisco airport,
making a very sudden trip to Florida,
leaving Nancy and Rusty at home.
Linda’s arriving in Sarasota
just three hours before I get to Tampa.
My father has to hurry back and forth.
The next two days I can’t quite be myself.
My dreams are disoriented.
I’m not sure who I am or what’s my role.
There’s a minister on CNN.
I want the truth, not a bunch of blather.
Why do I cry about my mother’s death
only while telling Nancy about it?
I don’t understand today’s experience.
I’ve never seen a dead human body.
She looked more or less like she could wake up
any moment, except her lower face,
which seemed unnaturally swollen and wrinkled.
A lot of friends came to view her body.
It was almost like a party,
people in groups discussing family
continuities, events long ago.
My dad seems more like me than ever before.
“I knew her for fifty six years.
We were married almost fifty five years.
I’m eighty years old.
I don’t have anything to complain about.”
My father said this over and over
in response to sympathy.
One time only, he said,
“It’s gonna be lonesome without her.”
Jesse clowns, I guess to cheer her up.
His approach is very different from
Nancy’s straight sincere comfort,
but it seems effective.
I just want to get out of here,
back to where I can be myself,
sing songs and watch nature shows
on the Discovery Channel.
I’m on a plane somewhere between
Dallas and San Francisco,
with a suitcase of my mother’s clothes
and a set of watercolor paints.
Outside the airplane window,
I see white clouds beneath a deep blue sky
like my childhood image of heaven.
I remember making styrofoam angels
standing on glittery cotton clouds.
The clouds part, revealing
snowy sagebrush hills and canyonlands,
meanders of a river cutting deep.
Nancy was kneeling on the path,
wearing a faded dress,
her long red hair in a ponytail,
digging in the bed with her trowel,
pulling out every bit of root,
putting in some little blue flowers.
She looked at me smiling,
told me these were forget-me-nots
from a friend’s garden in town.
I couldn’t held admiring
the curves of her back and bottom
while she kneeled and smiled at me.
“They’re pretty, and so are you,” I said.
Making love with me was getting painful.
The tubal pregnancy and miscarriage
Nancy had before coming back to me
caused some damage that wasn’t healing.
She had to have a hysterectomy.
We were planning to live together a year
before having a second child together.
Now this child is never going to happen.
When she came home from the hospital,
the bumpy ride up Miller Creek Road
ripped a few of her inner stitches,
and she had a reaction to the surgical clamps.
Nancy was immobilized in bed,
not my bed, but one set up downstairs.
I rigged this bell to a string
so she wouldn’t have to shout
if I was in the other part of the house.
All the work I had to do overwhelmed me.
Driving back to the doctor in Fortuna
three weeks later tore more stitches.
This time I put her in a motel.
I finished the last gate for the garden
the day before Nancy came home again.
I think she’s starting to get better.
She planted a few flowers, pulled some weeds.
Mindy bought Nancy a white woven Indian rug
that covers most of the living room floor,
under the couches and table, way too close
to the woodstove’s spill of ashes
and the cooking stove’s spill of food.
It would be pretty if I could keep it clean.
My vacuum’s carpet spinning thing
is designed for a rug with some pile,
and the sucking hose just gets stuck.
So much for ashes, forget about the food.
As for the dust that collects under the rug,
there’s no room to slide the furniture on and off.
Every shift of furniture makes wrinkles.
Nancy’s grumpy about her rug getting trashed.
I’m grumpy about it being here.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller