Roger Pfingston is the recipient of two PEN Syndicated Fiction Awards and a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the author of Something Iridescent, a collection of poetry and fiction, as well as three chapbooks: Earthbound, Singing to the Garden, and A Day Marked for Telling. He has poems in recent issues of I-70 Review, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Plainsongs, and Innisfree Poetry Journal.
“Dying is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to you.” -Andy Warhol
Sooner or later you learn there are no islands.
You swim a while and then you drown.
Bummer, says your twelve-year-old granddaughter.
Granted, good times and bad as you’re bobbing around,
a few lucky blips like the time you stopped by
the Marathon station to cash what you thought
was eight or nine bucks worth of lottery ticket
and the girl says a hundred and fifty,
the two of you so excited you give her a five-
dollar tip and buy ten more, thinking this
could be the day and of course it wasn’t, but hell
you knew that. Or that morning after cutting
a hanging limb out of the maple and you’re back
in the garage sliding the blade guard onto the saw,
its silent grrrr slicing your thumb, little crease
And then the time you tried to save
the inner tube, Lake Michigan, 1985, your kids
barely in their teens, a friend’s cottage, a sloping
beach with a seawall to curb erosion, the lake
that day frothy with high winds, when—a stupid
spur of the moment—you rolled the tractor tube
down the slope where it hit the wall with such force
that it bounced airborne, well out beyond
your expectations into brutish currents and waves
which you entered, hell bent on saving the day,
the tube, when, in fact, it would be yourself
you settled for, carried half a mile down the beach,
finally tossed up against a concrete groin, your body
limp with good intention, you lying there thinking
of the paperwork you’d saved your family, the burden
of transporting your body home to Indiana, how all
of you dodged the embarrassment of your reported death:
Local Teacher Drowns Trying to Retrieve Inner Tube.
J., our friend and neighbor,
is disappearing, her staring
at times so intense, through
and beyond our presence.
The room is ours more
than hers, the curtains pulled
back from a large window
like a movie screen of trees
waving and tossing their loss
as if to brighten the grayness
of this autumn afternoon,
friends and family sitting,
standing, one daughter sharing
her mother’s bed, tending what
remains, the hand that lifts,
milky eyes open wide, the body
more generous by the hour,
playing host to its guest, skin
shrunk to a tight wrap of the cage
we carry until we simply can’t.