Letter to Megan From Rifle

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I promised I couldn’t write away the violence
of guns, though I’d try. No one can right
what’s dead, or make a thumbprint somehow
inhabit the torn bed of the left big toe.
Wolves are dogs are cats exact as hyena
scat. That doesn’t make sense, I can already
hear you say, miles away
in Indiana. But you’re the woman with bees
in your throat, calling them all the way up
from their thirty-year hive
and your three-year-old self into being
a still-stung woman—the how and why you cry.
Yes, they’re there, in the throat, in the chest, welling up
through the sole of the foot like bullet holes
of poverty and dirt here in Rifle.
A town of 9,172, not counting the cats,
something you might put into a song
when you strum the chords for “Come Down” or “The Wolves”—
though are the strings of your Gibson
really made of catgut? An old Chinese poet
once said, Sometimes the dead keep on dying through our own
private bloodletting. Our dogs may know why
they carry the mystery-rich scent
of female names like left and right, I and thou,
here and hair—any dichotomous thing
simple enough to plague away the koan
of why we suffer and human and have
and hold and this day forward. There are verbs
we never dreamed. Holes complicating our words.
There are many ways to be human.
We call ourselves Luna and Bootsie and are,
for a moment, content, our animal skin thick
with the dogs that love us and with the many lives before,
the minute blood-passings we traveled
from the bottom of the now-dead world
just to become human.

So there is the echolalia

of cattle-gut calves, here, shuffling to their death
in a Colorado ranching town off I-70,
somehow reverberating in your Indiana
lake. So there is the buckshot of Rifle Creek,
which got its name when a nineteenth-century
trapper forgot his gun near the mouth
of the Colorado River. So there
are moments of dark and blight, this and that,
family members who said too much
too soon—and all of it lodged in the blonde
way of your hair. It lies that way, cups the shoulder,
as if it needed something to lean on.
We all need someone or something. I see
it here in Rifle, grateful that I don’t
have to stay, wondering how my words might
make my mouth, might add a single chord to what
you compose. Whole armies of termites
make one tiny mound in Rifle
the entire Eastern Front where Russians died
for a Czar they didn’t love. The world
goes on and on. The war, Tu Fu wept in Loyang—
as far back as the eighth-century—
does the same. Whether in Rifle or Fort Wayne
or your tiny Indiana woods
of Hoffman Lake, snow is always falling
into eventual melt. I promised
I wouldn’t preach. I left my thumbprint
on your cup of gorgeous green tea. Is it
still there, Meg? Is my own private clutching
pressing the cup? Is my own shoulder-length hair
still tableside, leaning on you and yours?
There are many ways to be human.
We call ourselves Luna and Bootsie—even
Normandy and Barney, if we name the dogs
we’ve lost—and remember our good long animal luck
of being alive.

(for Megan King)

 

Photo By: Cindy Cornett Seigle

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About Author

George Kalamaras, Poet Laureate of Indiana, is the author of seven books of poetry and seven chapbooks, including The Mining Camps of the Mouth (2012), winner of the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM chapbook contest, Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck (2011), winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Prize, and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (2000), winner of the Four Way Books Intro Prize. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry (on two occasions), Denver Quarterly, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, New Letters, North American Review, and many other anthologies and journals. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.

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