The Soft Edges of Difficult Things

by | May 20, 2020 | Poetry

I watch you sift through coffee mugs
in the corner cupboard, reach into
the far back, into the darkness
where they are double stacked,
rarely used, ones with our names, places
we’ve been, sayings we don’t believe
anymore, homemade ones that are too small
and probably not food safe.
I’m drinking cherry marzipan green tea,
like eating cake first thing in the morning, like I am
the rich and famous, like I am
addicted to salty sugar, to kisses
just after teeth are brushed, to scalding tongues
within minutes of finishing a dream
about loved ones who have passed.
You select a mug, inspect,
return it, select a different mug,
inspect, return it, select a different
mug, inspect, return it. Each one in your hand
for thirty seconds, in your mind’s long weave.
Last night you held a carved stone turtle
for what seemed like hours. Too bad its tail is broken,
you said. But I knew there was more. Your eyes said it.
Your face said it, and it was like cells had rearranged themselves
into something from years ago,
something I recognized.
The coffee pot gurgles the last of the water.
The calico purrs uncontrollably on my lap.
They are the same, everything entwined.
Last night you remembered staying
with your grandparents for a week when you were young,
that giant Victorian in Cattaraugus even more magical,
the trip to African Lion Safari where the turtle came from.
My souvenir was a wax lion from the Mold-A-Rama
at Brookfield Zoo. You had never heard of such a thing.
If pressed hard enough, the wax would break.
My lion long lost, prone to melting.
Your turtle smooth and real and permanent.
You decide on the newest mug—
blue-black with a skull on its front,
loop handle, stylized bottom,
the potter’s business cards
still on the counter from two months ago.
There are business cards all over the house, stuck
in drawers, tucked in shelves, used
as bookmarks, cradled in vases, held
on the fridge with magnets.
They are what we need, where we’ve been,
what we recommend, what we want
to remember, if we ever get back there.
Now, across from me, the green
velvety upholstery has been shredded
by cats, white stuffing hanging out,
the chair’s wooden frame starting to show.
Clouds and bones.
I can see my pulse in my left wrist
as I hold these pages.
The smell of toast.
It is all clouds.
It is all bones.

Photo used under CC

About The Author


Jeffrey Letterly is a conservatory-trained composer/pianist with a master’s degree in interdisciplinary arts. His credits include music played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, sound documentaries broadcast on public radio stations, several performance art pieces, short films, stories, poems, and art objects. His poetry has appeared in Clackamas Literary Review. Born and raised in a one-stoplight town in Central Illinois, he now resides in Syracuse, NY, where he works in the health insurance industry and sometimes puts on shadow puppet shows with his wife.