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Spring/Summer 1998, Volume 15.2



Joan L. Coles

Joan L. Coles (PhD, U of Utah) is a retired clinical psychologist and has published in Tailwinds.


Before Committal

The impulse to pick up the phone, to dial,
to be the good daughter I never was before she died,
came swimming into my cells on her tides, the ocean
of her voice, even as I floated in the brine of her womb,
even as 1, in childhood, listened in silence from another room.

I wonder about the box of ashes
—my brother did say box—
on the mantel in his living room
a thousand miles away.
I want its shape, its size.
Did it come from the crematory
like a gift wrapped in white,
or like a shameful secret
in plain brown paper?

From the tropical island she lived on—her childhood dream,
she always said—, as if she were crumbling a make-believe castle
on a shifting beach, as if she were simply scattering sand,
she sent her husband, her children, to live in other lands,
and went with a new husband to dream the dream again.

Scattered kin will gather
in August, in Florida. In the heat
of talk and remembrance
we will create her and ourselves anew,
complete with lapses, and errors.

We washed away from her, like the sand from a winter beach.
She saw in us only what she wanted, erased and remade us
according to her needs. I never saw myself in what she told
her friends, not even my job, not the what, nor the where.
I stayed away from the undertow of her imaginings, but sometimes
I called her up, as if words could still make a difference.
There will be no scattering
of ashes. At Marker 15
in Tampa Bay, just as we did
with her husband's dust
a dozen years ago,
we will slide the box
from under a flag, unseen

into the ocean. The waters deep, the currents strong, will carry away
our poems, our flowers, but their word, their acts, remain
the perilous shoal that bends our lives like waves around a sand bar.
There is no number left to dial, nobody to answer, but words
still go out with addresses, like messages in bottles
adrift on the ocean that has no distant shore.


At a Waterfront Cafe

The couple at the table by the window
stare west across the parking lot,
the pier beyond. He, once slim
but skinny now, sees some far horizon.
She, no longer fair, or slender,
gazes at something deep inside.

You young couples not yet emptied
of your impassioned need—to join, to talk,
to lay the ropes that will hold you
at anchor side by side—you feel pity,
don't you, at their silence?

I tell you it is a blessing not to have to talk.
Sitting together, she will imagine
a sequel to Gone With the Wind,
and he will invent equations
for wolves and moose in the wild.
They know strong tides will pull them loose,
first one and then the other, from the anchor
that moors them. It is enough that they
reach out, and touch, and wait together
knowing each will face a different sunset,
and the full moon is rising at their backs.

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