I am sitting on a plane right now, and I have only a few minutes before all the bags are tucked inside the compartments and the little videos come over the screen, and I woke up at 7 am today thinking I had enough time to do all the things which I needed to do, which was simply get on a train and then another and then one more so I could get to the airport on time to sit and enjoy a cafe latte and a croissant and write a little, but things did not go as I planned. I’m not sure why. I strategized and charted my course and all of that. But what happened instead was that I got on a wrong shuttle going one way, which is so typical of me, and then that took about 15 extra minutes, and then, you know, the airport is kind of a maze, and I had to walk what felt like many miles and stand in a line, but luckily some of the airport workers were nice to me when I made it clear I was likely going to miss my flight, and they let me ahead of the line and everything was okay.
And then I got to the gate for departure, and I was fortunate that there was a little shop I could at least buy a coffee to take on the plane, and I held my breath a little but tried to breathe while she made it, and then sat to get my things in order, but my backpack was wrapped like a handcuff around my wrist and I set the coffee down in a stupid place and then it promptly spilled all over me.
So I had to go back and stand in line and buy another and ask a couple if they would let me butt in front of the line.
And mon cherie, I had so much to tell you but it will have to wait, but I want to stress to you now while I sit in the middle of a long row, and prepare to edit my book on the long flight, and maybe read a bit, too, that this is what the living do.
We wake up, we rush, we shuttle, we drink coffee, we write, we talk, we rest, and, when we’re lucky, kiss and hug and love other people, which is what makes life the most sweet and special.
And so all I can think about is this poem I must share with you, because it is the Essence of Truth, and I really have no further time to write, so here it is, and I hope you enjoy.
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.
*And I have shared this poem so many times with so many people, and even on a job interview once, because the thing about poems is that they are prayers, and my prayer for you is to be remembered in some special way for a kindness you extended once, or many times.