By Matthew Dickman
When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known,
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the check-out line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead,
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? She says,
reading the name out loud, slowly
so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.
About the author
Matthew Dickman is the twin brother of poet Michael Dickman. He. grew up in Oregon. He earned a BA at the University of Oregon and an MFA at the University of Texas-Austin’s Michener Center.
He is the author of poetry collections:
Mayakovsky’s Revolver (2014)
50 American Poems (cowritten with Michael Dickman, 2012)
All American Poem (2008).
Unabashed in their celebration and in their grief, Dickman’s expansive lyric poems are full of references to popular culture, personal history, and class-based struggle.
Dickman’s work has won the American Poetry Review’s Honickman First Book Prize, the 2009 Oregon Book Award for Poetry, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the American Academy of Arts and Science’s May Sarton Poetry Prize. He has been awarded residencies and fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the Vermont Studio Center, Literary Arts of Oregon, and the Lannan Foundation. Matthew Dickman lives in Portland, Oregon