January 7, 2014

Marge Saiser

THE STORY, PART OF IT

The story, part of it, is that
the tractor was parked, running,
at the top of the hill, and that
my sister Jennie, ten years old, climbed
up and took a seat at the wheel. The story,

part of it, is that my father worked on something
attached behind the tractor, the boom of the digger
or the chain, perhaps; the story does not tell all. It tells
what he said to Jennie, his instruction; it tells
what he said into the fierce wind blowing that day,
the roar of the wind and the roar of the tractor.

He said, “Whatever you do, don’t step on the clutch.”
The wind took his words, flipped and turned them,
gusted them even as it gusted everything it could,
even as it tossed the ends of the red scarf Jennie wore,
flapping it out and back, out and back. Jennie
heard him say “Step on the clutch” and she did.
The tractor lurched down the hill like an animal

freed. The story, part of it, tells how the tractor
rolled, gaining, how Jennie stood steadfast
on the clutch, hanging onto the wheel, her hair
and her red scarf flying with the speed of it, how
the tractor roared down the slope until it
hit the barbed wire fence at the bottom,
broke through and rolled over,
how she flew off, and the clutch engaged and
killed the engine. Everything was at that second
silent from the roaring, and Jennie was
face-down on the grass, alive, but he, my father,
thought she was dead.

And years later when my father was dying, I called
Jennie. You’d better come, I said. She arrived
at the hospital and I met her at the main door
to show her through the maze, the halls,
to my father’s last room. We turned the turn
and could see him ahead. No longer
a man at work. Or rather a man doing
the new work of dying. He sat in the bed, tubes
into the skin of the backs of his hands.
He looked up and caught
sight of her, of us, and then he did what
Jennie cannot explain, get over, understand,
make sense of: he put his hand over his eyes;
he looked down at the floor while we came to him.
The story, part of it, is that Jennie cannot let go of this.
She told me: It’s what he’s always done—
he did not want to see me, to look at me.
No, I told her. No, it was to keep from crying.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013

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[download audio]

Marge Saiser: “I like to write in coffee shops. I have a perfectly good chair by the window at home, but I go to the Mill or to the Vibe or to Meadowlark; much better coffee than home, and there’s biscotti. If I’m lucky, I’ll fill pages with scribble and hit upon some nerve that turns toward a poem. If not coffee shops, then a retreat to my friend’s cabin on the Platte with several other women. We keep silence and write.” (www.poetmarge.com)