“Strange Ode” by Susan Browne

Susan Browne


I wanted love so badly
I flew to Cedar Rapids
to stay with a man I barely knew,

and when I arrived at his house,
we chatted for a bit, and he poured
us each a glass of wine and after

a few sips asked if I’d pee
on his head. He was a psychologist,
so I hoped he was joking.

We’d met in a bar in San Francisco—
I was often in a bar in those days,
as if love lived there.

My father was an alcoholic,
and my mother had just died,
and looking back at who I was then,

I realize I was crazy from grief.
But at the time I didn’t know what
I was doing, and a stranger had asked

a strange question. “In the kitchen?”
I asked, because that’s where we were,
my small suitcase next to the chair.

“No,” the man said. “In the shower.”
I glanced into the living room: dark wood floor,
dark furniture, drapes closed in midafternoon.

Fear zithered my ribcage. I hadn’t told anyone
where I was. This man could kill me and bury me
in his backyard, and no one would ever find out.

“I think you’d enjoy it,” he said.
“And if you’d like me to, I can also pee
on your head.” “No, thanks.”

I tried to chuckle, but it sounded
like a chicken bone
was stabbing my larynx.

We went for a drive through a beautiful forest
by a river to his parents’ house. The father
wore a blue seersucker suit, and the mother’s dress

was patterned with peonies. His parents
were so kind I felt like I was their daughter.
When they asked about my family,

I said my mother had died in a car accident,
and while I cried, no one said anything
until I was able to stop. The mother held

my hand the whole time. After dinner,
her son and I sat in the backyard
eating ice cream.

I’d never seen fireflies before.
They made a gold constellation
like a sky of stars beneath the stars.

When we got back to his place, we put on
our pajamas and went to bed. He held me
close and told stories from his childhood.

“Shower?” he asked.
I said the fireflies were good enough.
In the morning, I decided to go home,

so he changed the ticket. At the airport,
he gave me a wrapped present, saying it
was something for my journey. As the plane

lifted off, I opened the package, a book:
You Can Be Happy No Matter What,
and I couldn’t put it down.

from Rattle #64, Summer 2019


Susan Browne: “I’ve been in love with poetry since I was twelve when my next door neighbor gave me a book of poems, Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. Archy is a cockroach and a free verse poet. Mehitabel is a cat in her ninth life with many stories to tell. Archy has to throw himself headfirst onto each typewriter key in order to write. I was inspired! Poetry is my way of being in the world. I don’t know any other way.” (web)


Susan Browne is this week’s guest on the Rattlecast. Click here to watch live or archived.

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