A Confederacy of Dunces and Castoffs

We “go thrifting,” my daughter and I,

because it’s again cool to be uncool

and because she can’t yet hear

the murmurs of each discarded thing.

I dread finding items I’ve already cast off

at the Goodwill on Oneida street;

I prepare to glance away awkwardly,

pretending to see something that interests me

in the aisle of plaques and knick-knacks.

Cast-off things do not forgive,

perfectly good coffee mugs from Fleet Farm,

ShopKo shirts that look matronly,

backpacks with empty, growling bellies.

“I don’t know you,” I’d have to say, fiercely.

“You must be mistaking me for someone else!”

Alongside several copies of Fifty Shades of Gray

here is A Confederacy of Dunces, inscribed inside:

“To Jennifer, this is one of my very favorite books.

I hope you get better soon. Sean A.”

Not just one of his favorites, very favorite –

Jennifer must have been special for Sean A.

to divulge this secret with her, so I pay $4.99 for the copy,

and carry it home with a gossipy fuzzy sweater,

wondering about Jennifer.

There are four main possibilities in the matrix,

not counting half-starts and stasis:

She read the book, she didn’t. She got better, she died.

I find out Sean A. was a local English teacher once,

but no longer. Perhaps he too is dead, although he’d be

just 10 years older than I, and I hope i have more

than 10 years between me and death.

I see him living with his ancient parents

and a cat who curls up on his lap on Saturday afternoon,

leaving long white hair on his brown corduroys.

He watches This Old House and Wheel of Fortune, absently,

thinking about Jennifer,

about fixing up an old house for them

and filling it with books,

books that will be read and loved from either end of the couch,

books that will stay where he places them,

books that don’t wander off.

“M,” he guesses.

“T.”

Wes and Jesus Come up Empty

I.

After

we see paintings of the sea, and moonlight, and doom by

Winslow Homer, after we work on income tax forms and insurance and eat

carnitas

burritos and watch Netflix, I don’t feel well,

it’s not a bellyache or a hangover or a fever or something that CVS can fix.

it’s like

this existential ache in my soul; it’s

not something that I really want to think about

because

I’d have to reach back all the way to the beginning

and anyway it’s dinner time and instead I’m reaching into this drawer full of

knives,

serrated blades that bare their

teeth along my fingers, but I’m careful to take just one.

II.

Last week

I saw a TV commercial for a microwavable cup

with bits of vegetable and potato and peppers, you just add an

egg

and your breakfast problem is solved, I am thinking

of this while you and I walk 38 blocks teetering on the edge of

Milwaukee;

this March Sunday morning question unsolvable:

is this it, or is there more? I wish I could just add an egg to this

problem.

Faced with that same question 27 years ago,

I stayed. Was it right? I don’t know. The thought of not having my

three

children, these particular ones, out in the wide world

brings me to fierce and sudden tears right there on the windy sidewalk.

Each

choice is wrong, either choice is right,

or could be made so, perhaps you learn how you feel before the coin lands.

III.

“Is he

a good dog? ….Who’s to say?”

Wes Anderson doesn’t help me here, or Jesus either; Micah 6:8,

what

is the right thing to do in this instance,

what leads to happiness? Do I say, stay, stay with this boy who is kind, this boy we

love

and who loves you, beyond measure,

even if you do not always sharpen each other, make each other better,

like

a knife against a stone?

The world is full of sharp things.

IV.

Life

is a yawning paper cootie-catcher

on lined notebook paper in a 5th grader’s back pocket, first narrow then wide,

narrow

then wide, you can’t know what’s

inside, you just have to pick a color, and pull up the flap, the

question

on the other side propels you

deeper into the story, back and forth and back and forth

until

you don’t know how

you got there or where you are going, you just hold on and

ride,

back and forth and dark and

light, yin and yang, pain and pleasure, if you are lucky,

until

it closes on this world for good

and opens in the dawn of another, without any

guessing at all.