What the Living Do
By Marie Howe
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 is a poet from Rochester, New York. What the Living Do is her collection of poems written as an elegy for her brother John, who died of AIDS in 1989. She has also written The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and The Good Thief, her first book, which was chosen by Margaret Atwood as the winner of the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series. Atwood described Howe's work as “poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.” She earned her MFA from Columbia University, and has worked as a reporter and a teacher. She is the 2012 state poet of New York, and now lives in New York City with her daughter.
Not long ago, Howe gave a gorgeous and rare interview to Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air" about living with loss, power, and vulnerability.