A graduate of Duke Law School and the University of North Carolina, James Garrison practiced law until returning to his first loves: writing and literature. His novel, QL 4 (TouchPoint Press 2017), set in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War, is a mystery/suspense story of intrigue, betrayal, and crime among soldiers on the same side in an unpopular war. His creative nonfiction work “Time to Go” recently appeared in the daCunha on line magazine; and his poem, “A Rising Tide,” received first place for poetry in a contest sponsored by the Houston Writers Guild Press. “A Rising Tide” and two other poems that received honorable mentions, “War of the Martins and Sparrows” and “A Dangerous World,” were published in the HWG Press anthology, Out of Many, One – Celebrating Diversity (2017). https://jamesgarrison-author.com/
We’re all going skiing today.
We adults are apprehensive, not sure how our old bodies will react.
I stand on the porch with my coffee and gaze out:
the lake is a shimmery blue;
the mountains, almost black, divide the lake from the blue sky.
The wet bark and boughs of the pines near the cabin
frame lake, mountains, and sky—
on the mountains white patches of snow.
Why did Hemingway kill himself when he wasn’t dying?
What did he wake and see in the mirror one morning?
What was he afraid of?
Was it death?
He feared death so much that he ran into her arms to escape the fear?
Was it the weakening of his body?
A debilitating, wasting disease?
Disgust at what he had become?
He lived in a cabin, in a wild and pristine place.
Was it not enough to look out across the forest in the morning,
hear the birds, see the mountains against the sky?
To squeeze out of life one last breath of cold air,
to bring in the light refracted through the trees,
the red and yellow flowers in the meadow,
the blue sky,
and process it all through rods and cones,
sparking billions of stars in his sentient self?
Different from the trees that stand silent, mute, mindless, unseeing.
Why did Hemingway kill himself
when perhaps he could write one more paragraph,
one more sentence
that described simply and directly
the world, life,
even if no one would publish it or ever read it?
There, on an old worn seat, clean and cold,
I left it behind on the Staten Island Ferry—
after a walk on Wall Street,
a Saturday with darkness falling at four o’clock,
a wind chill of zero degrees,
a polar contrast to the heat, mosquitoes, and fear
I had known only days before.
The cold, cold wind I remember,
but I can’t remember
what she said,
staring past me
at dusk settling over the water
or perhaps at her reflection in the window.
She wore a bright red coat with gray fur at her neck
and at her throat;
I wore padded gabardine,
smooth and faded with age and use.
Did she wear a scarf, a hat? Did I?
It ended there, on the ferry sliding
through the black water of the harbor.
I can’t remember what she said.
But what she said was true,
truer than most words between lovers;
honest, confessional, expiatory,
perhaps even pleading.
What she wanted, I do not know—
to clear something away like the banked snow,
icy and dirty on Broadway.
To this city I was a stranger, an explorer,
on the Staten Island Ferry,
going nowhere and back.
Whatever it was she said,
I looked out the window
at the dusk turning night over the black water,
the lights, the statue and the lights not sparkling
but dully glowing in the dusk.
I can’t remember what she said.
The ferry entered the slip,
and we exited through the gate
(the only passengers coming back to the city,
maybe a worker or two,
the only fools wandering
through ice-cold canyons at Saturday dusk
because I wanted to ride the Staten Island Ferry,
no other goal than to ride the ferry,
a frigid hour before sunset,
under a sunless milk sky
that turned to soot
then faded to black)
and I ate the apple that she gave me.
Who knew the City could be so empty,
Sitting there on the ancient wooden benches,
new, newer now,
not seeing the statue or the skyline as she spoke,
only hearing her tell me
and feeling the frisson of despair
that wouldn’t go away.
Only gray skies and no sunset to watch,
and the black night when we walked the icy streets
to the subway,
Battery Park or somewhere near.
I was a stranger, I didn’t know my way;
and what she said changed everything,
the wages of blunt honesty,
two strangers on the Staten Island Ferry
going their separate ways.