At Grand & Arsenal
When we pulled up to the stoplight,
he leaned over and kissed my arm,
keeping his lips pressed hard against
the skin and hair as if needing to taste
all the salt there. I thought the moment
might never end, but the light changed,
and then we drove on, and when I asked,
What was that for? he shook his head
and smiled, though I cupped my hand
over the place he had kissed just in case
the kiss might catch on the wind, leap
from the window like an ember and burn
in someone else instead of me.
You finally decide to do no more
than is necessary, relishing each new
gulp of air drawn into your lungs,
when out of the flavorless mush
of days, even weeks without sun,
it happens again: life calls you back.
With a hint of chocolate in the cup
of coffee taken alone at the table,
or the needles of coneflower seeds
sticking to your fingertips as you
spread them around in autumn earth.
How all living things want to go on,
attaching themselves to whatever body
or breath of wind will carry them home.
Now stop in the driveway and listen
as amber-gold leaves, one by one,
break off with a simple snap of stem
from branch, that sound just shy
of silence saying to you: it’s time
to release all the relentless reaching
for the light. Rest is not death,
though it may feel like it at first.
Compassion sat quietly beside me
that December night with my father
in the dim light of his ICU room,
then led me by the hand to the end
of the hallway where I bought him
a cold bottle of Coke which I placed
sweating on his tray, unwrapping
a straw and bending the end until
it faced him. Now I see it was only
compassion that kept my voice steady
as I said goodbye to him, sensing
it would be the last time, even as nurses
hustled me out, said to go home
and get some rest. Only compassion
that made me linger by his bed,
gripping the callused hand that had
fixed so much for me over the years,
then moving that bottle of soda
a little closer, so he could reach it
once I was gone.
James Crews is the editor of several bestselling poetry anthologies: Healing the Divide, The Path to Kindness, and How to Love the World, which has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, as well as in The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. He is the author of four prize-winning collections of poetry: The Book of What Stays, Telling My Father, Bluebird, and Every Waking Moment, and his poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, The New Republic, and Prairie Schooner. James teaches writing in the Poetry of Resilience seminars (www.thepoetryofresilience.com), and in the MFA program at Eastern Oregon University.