What the Living Do


What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

— Marie Howe


     How It Ends

The crusty dishes have piled up,
rear ending a clogged sink and each other.
There is a steady stream
speeding off the dining table, expecting
to be quickly rinsed and parked
in the dishwasher until a full load.

This is the way it happens, the stream
of dishes, of letters to write, of chores to do,
of errands to run stream forward
like highway traffic until
a fog bank, a car spinning on its blown tire,
something stops the flow, hard.
The dishes clog the drain board.
The work clogs the in-basket.
Absence fills the in-box.
Life's expectations are not met
in an ER waiting room.

—Jeffrey Taylor

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