methow grist 2011-2014 archive

happy stories

After the funeral an old Aunt
sat with her sister, their punch cups
teetering on the edge of an uneven card table.
“You knew, Thomas died of a hart attack just three years ago?
He wouldn’t listen to Enid about eating all that fat but what would you
     expect from
a hard-headed Finn?” They shook their heads
like twin pendulums ticking off the seconds.
Sun slanted in through the garden windows,
kids chased each other in some wild game or another, their laughter
feeling like fresh rain as one sister tried to top the other.
“Well, Betsy died falling down her cellar stairs looking
for a jar of peaches, and Carl just kept calling after her
complaining that the ice cream was getting warm.”
The women chuckled, as a kid sprinted into the room
clutching someone else’s hat
spilling the juice, upsetting the dog
and causing the cat to arch and spit.
“But you knew Alice died of a brain hemorrhage right there in Hawaii,”
the Aunt said daubing at the lurid red stain on the front of her dress.
“In her new bathing suit, no less.”

The kids wrestled in the flowerbeds now. Uncles swearing
dogs snarling, but the Aunts wouldn’t stop talking about grisly death.
Each one trying to top the other as if they would eventually come to
    that final,
and most absurd dying anyone could imagine.
A death so ridiculous that we would laugh until we couldn’t
laugh, until our sides would swell and our skin stretch tight
over heaving lungs,
laugh so hard we would rise right out of our chairs
and float away from the house
leaving the casseroles and the adder mouthed flowers, in silence,
our hilarity growing thin in the upper atmosphere,
for these Aunts only want to find that one story about death
so absurdly funny
we could circle the heavens on the richness of it
like a satellite preserved in orbit
and ever.

But they couldn’t, so we sat plopped in our chairs
and ate the ham, washed off the children when they came in
then tried to tell any old story,
until the dishes were put away
and it was finally time to go,
with one foot in front of the other,
tethered here firmly
to the surface of the earth.

John Straley first came to the Methow in 1963 for a family pack trip with Jack Wilson and three years later went to work for him. When Wilson sold out to Claude Miller, John was thrown into the deal and he packed for Claude through 1975. After a summer working for the Courtney family in Stehekin, he then moved to Sitka, Alaska where his horse career ended and his writing career began. John has seven published novels along with the book of poetry this poem came from, titled ‘The Rising and the Rain’ from the University of Alaska Press.


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