“I Talk to My Sister, Penny, about Loss”
It was winter in ’63 when we’d leave our house
each Monday night, close the kitchen door
on Mom who would whisper to Dad
as she crumbed the table, hoping somehow
the dead could hear what she needed to say
after his death that Christmas.
And in school I learned to be a stranger.
The eighth-grade girls whose breasts began
to stretch the St. James on their jumpers
made me invisible when they’d giggle
with the cocky athletes. And winter
grayed on beyond the steamy windows.
But Monday nights you and I could ride Route 1
in your warm Ford to Edison Lanes
as Roy Orbison soared from your dashboard
with such precious agony. And 13 was far too old
not to know he sang the truth of loneliness:
that love can die when you need it most.
I remember your eyes during “Only the Lonely”
how you’d let me turn it up, his voice rattling
the closed windows and how we’d wait
after we arrived for his last words before the ice
outside your car. Later, you’d steer me home
as Roy touched what I told no one.
Twenty years later he came on stage old and fat,
and we stared at the floor as he struggled
through his own songs, his dark glasses
slipping down his nose. But at the end
he sang “Crying” and leaned back and wailed
as if he had just looked into his grave.
Penny, Roy died last night and I thought of you
when I heard the news in my Mustang.
I know why the grieving talk to themselves
and why we feel invisible in our hometown
where St. James Church is now a parking lot
and strangers stare from our kitchen window.
So tell your granddaughters not to wait up tonight,
let’s drive past the mini mall that once was Edison Lanes.
Let’s make up our own songs now and sing so loud
we thump the tinted glass. Take the wheel, dear sister,
steer me on through the enveloping night,
let me forget there is no turning back.
from Home Fire (Belle Mead Press)