Feral iris bloom peach and blue and cream, and sweet-tempered purple violas, and a busy chipmunk digdigdigs up the mint and basil and thyme, little bastard. He skitter-pops on quick feet over the mulch while the sun rises through one soft smoky exhale.
In the house, the man and the boy sleep, and maybe dream.
All over town, along every street, spiky white daisies to braid a crown.
Occupy the blank hollows between clockticks not considering his obituary, or eulogy, or anything words at all—instead, chipmunks and herbs and irises and smoke.
At the Farmers’ Market, booths blush with the pinks and reds of April and May. Eat strawberries by the fistful dirt and all red-mouthed and sweet-tounged while children and dogs swarm your knees—a little bit of thunder, or the echo of a phone call in your head. A woman rhapsodizes spring asparagus, somewhere to your immediate left. Radishes taste best with butter.
Eat. Eating after a death is a mitzvah, after all.
If walking is hard, aimless onefootinfrontoftheother up the stairs and down the stairs and to the stove to fill the teakettle to the cupboard a box of stale crackers the bathroom a Kleenex from one bright window to another to another, then stand. If standing is hard, in the empty kitchen empty bedroom empty living room, sit. The faded green chair by the north-facing window, the window with the bird feeder. Chickadees and goldfinches and starlings and robins perform a mitzvah.
You are an empty teacup.
Molasses-sticky feet cling damp to linoleum—a light and brief hand on a wall a caesura, stopped in place for a minute or an hour, a week, a year.
Grief plans an extended visit, but neglects to call ahead.
Grief chain smokes Lucky Strikes on the porch and watches that goddamn chipmunk eat the mojito mint, Grief swarms around your feet with red-mouthed kids and barking dogs in the hot street discusses asparagus with the woman to your immediate left. Grief picks blue irises and white daisies to make you a crown and stands on your front step with both hands flowerfull until you consent to let it in.
Suzanne Cody’s (MFA, Nonfiction Writing, University of Iowa) recent publications include poetry in Gambling the Aisle, Crack the Spine, and Storm Cellar, essay in Queen Mob’s Tea House and Pithead Chapel, and flash fiction in Blink Ink. Suzanne served on the editorial committee for the Seneca Review anthology We Might as Well Call It the Lyric Essay, and is currently Nonfiction Editor for Crack the Spine.
She sensed when he’d show up. She’d turn her head and look out the window. There he’d be 3 floors down in the parking lot. The man in the hat.
Tall, almost lanky. Black hat – she wasn’t sure the term – Boiler? Brimmed? Felt? Always. Sometimes with a vest. Sometimes a leather jacket. White guy. Indiscriminate age, maybe 28 or 43. Not as old as she was. Not young enough to be self-conscious.
On him the hat worked. For her. There was something about his gait. Self-assured. Never in a rush. Going somewhere. He looked like he could time travel, be comfortable anywhere. The kind of guy who could wear an “I heart my cat” shirt without an ounce of irony or stroll to a piano bar in a dusty western town. He’d need a wider brimmed hat for that.
She wondered where he worked. She realized she was unaware of what the other companies in the building were or did.
She never saw him at the food trucks. She hated the elevator; he struck her as a take-the-stairs guy. She liked the familiarity of the mystery of him a few times a week. Possibility in the guise of routine.
One day she was walking down the stairwell. There he was – she had been right. Up close, she still liked his face. Light eyes. Pale. Maybe intelligent. Short dark hair, at least what she could see around the hat. Could be a banker if he swapped jeans for a suit.
“I like your hat.”
Nice smile, “thanks.”
“Goes with anything; in this climate, you could wear it in any season.”
He agreed then described his summer hat. Made eye contact. Then held the door.
She paused. Almost held out her hand. Introduced herself.
Maybe it would have been what her former father‑in‑law used to call “the Greatest Love Story of All Time.”
Maybe she would have made a new friend.
Maybe they would have grabbed a cup of coffee or a beer.
Maybe they would have talked about cats.
Or ended up naked and sweaty tangled in bed sheets.
Maybe, naked, he would’ve let her try on that hat.
Most likely none of that would happen.
She had good American life by any standard; in her routine she didn’t have was much that was interesting.
And the man in the hat, he was something to ponder.
What if under that hat was a wispy, greying, middle-aged comb-over? What if the intelligence in his eyes was anxiety? What if he was just another IT cog who played golf, drank too much on the weekends, and watched sitcoms after work?
She liked speculating about the man in the hat.
She did not hold out her hand or ask his name.
Instead, she walked through the open door, cold reality making way for fantasy: “thank you. Good night.”
She did not wait for his response, for him to catch up, share details about his life, and maybe walk with her to her car.
Tara Hun-Dorris, a West Virginia native, lives in Raleigh, NC.
I have waking-nightmares of you falling out of the sky.
NASA rings me. I think it’s spam, but they know I trust NORAD, so they have me call the mountain nearby and ask for some general by name to confirm. A private jet flies me to the Kennedy Space Center where all the loved-ones of a secret mission and recently compromised space-vessel have been collected. There, Mission Control puts us all in headsets wired straight to our crew members in the sky – in the cold black that is quickly becoming lighter as the ship plummets back to earth at the speed of any respectable falling-star.
I’ve written you a poem. You talk to God. I watch the screen to help me time my last words to you, and see the ship make impact. Crash into the earth. Explode in the dirt and air with the space and humanity still all over it.
Around the room, people double-over with grief. They wail. In some scenarios I do, too. In others, I silently keel to the floor and vomit. Someone like you – sane and composed in crisis – drapes a windbreaker embroidered with your name and the mission’s insignia over my hunched shoulders.
All correspondence with the ship is recorded, so in the following days I listen back to our conversation. So do the officials and, in some versions, pieces are given to the media for the sake of public morale. Your poem becomes a cultural landmark. In others, the whole voyage is kept under wraps and none of the families are allowed copies of their astronauts’ final sounds.
Sometimes you try to give me custody of your nephew (since your brother is in jail and your father is aging). In all of them, you ask me to tell your sister’s daughter and your namesake that you love her and that her laugh is your favorite sound in the whole universe. You remind me that your second-favorite sound is mine.
My last words to you are, “See you soon”. This is because you’ve seen how much God always loved you and because you and I always end things upbeat and because you and I are never finished.
Delaney Kochan is a mountain-raised writer who has has essays published in Under the Gum Tree, Chaleur, Ruminate, and multiple collegiate literary magazines; she guest-writes for outdoor adventure and regional magazines. She started a lifestyle brand and magazine with her friends in college and now is a reader for Newfound Publisher. She loves language even over story, and on the weekends she works as a floral interpreter. Full list of work can be found at www.delaneykochan.com