July 20, 2014

Megan Collins


I think about the toothbrushes, tucked in their travel packs
like snug children. I think about the pairs of underwear,
counted to match the number of days away. I wonder
what books the passengers were reading, if the authors
ever considered their words might turn to kindling, or if
it’s true what people say—that stories survive us all.

I can’t envision the bodies, but I can imagine passports
and receipts, the in-flight magazines that barely get a glance.
I can feel the plastic wrappings of airport snacks, how they
sometimes slip beneath fingertips just before they’re torn apart.
I think about seat backs and tray tables in their upright and locked
positions; I think of wedding rings twirled, feet set on the floor.

Then I picture the wings reattaching to the plane, which arcs back
into the sky, swallowing its own smoke as it goes. I picture the pages
of books being turned in reverse, the endings getting farther and farther
away. I picture the kisses that saw each person off that morning, watch
the couples’ eyelids slide to a close once more. Then, while they still
have moments to spare, their lips come together like hands in prayer.

from Poets Respond
July 20, 2014


Megan Collins: “When I heard that nearly 300 people died in the Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed in Ukraine on Thursday, I couldn’t comprehend the size of that loss. Three hundred people is more than went to my high school at one time, but that number still felt too abstract to me. I found that I could only fathom the weight of that tragedy by thinking of it in terms of its smallest parts—the items that everyone packs, the familiar routines of a flight, and the goodbyes that nobody ever anticipates will be final. Focusing on these things brought the situation to light for me: these people, who’d packed up their things and held onto boarding passes with their destinations written on them, had believed that their lives would go on.”

Rattle Logo

June 29, 2014

Megan Collins


It’s an elegant thought,
sending messages to Heaven. So they gathered
on the football field, slipped into balloons the words
they might have otherwise written in his yearbook.
They used their functioning, unpinned lungs to inflate
those bubbles of color, then held each tied end tightly
before finally letting go.
Candles in their hands,
they watched the balloons drift farther away, the distance
becoming as massive as the impossibility of an accident
had been. People lingered as long as the light allowed, then—
in huddles of arms and bowed heads—turned away,
the flames and sunset burnt out.
But balloons, fragile as bodies,
burst when they get too high, and the next morning, a woman
working in her garden, miles away from the field, found
I never told you this, but I love you. It was nestled in the petals
of hydrangea, and she stared at the note like the handwriting
was something she remembered.
There was also a girl,
pigtailed and proud of her chalk drawings, who glimpsed
a white scrap in the grass. You’re the kind of person I always
wanted to be, but I was afraid. She was too young to understand
the words, so her mother, home now after a double,
read them aloud, her breath catching.
And the boy’s father,
who sat on his front porch, barely seeing the lawn laid out
in front of him, only felt the note as the wind dropped it
on his feet. You were so much stronger than I ever was.
You were beautiful and brave and alive. Impossible as the fact
that he’d had to plant his son like a seed in the earth, here
were his own words, sent back from the sky.

Poets Respond
June 29, 2014


Megan Collins: “I wrote this poem in response to a local tragedy in which a teenager, Austin Tautkus of Ellington, Connecticut, was killed in an ATV accident. On Tuesday of this week, there was a memorial in which people gathered to let go of balloons filled with messages they had written for the boy. The idea of this tribute moved me, and I wondered what would happen to those messages, where they would end up, once the balloons popped. In writing this poem, I imagined a kind of healing end to that story, both for those who knew Tautkus and those who didn’t but are similarly affected by their own personal heartaches.”

Rattle Logo

April 19, 2014

Megan Collins


And he hasn’t told anyone he loves them
since the war (the real one, as he calls it,
when he shook on the coast of Normandy).
The closest we ever got was when he built us
a dollhouse—beige shingles, brown shutters,
green carpet in the bedrooms.
He inscribed it To K & M From Gramps
With Love, as though love, like living room or hallway,
was another feature.

He collects vacuum cleaners,
picks them up off the side of the road
before the trash men arrive, fixes them,
speaks of plans to sell.
He’s taken out all the furniture in his dining room
where the twenty or more vacuums
now stand like soldiers.
My grandmother’s thimble collection
he keeps.

He has never eaten seconds,
not even on Thanksgiving or Christmas
when most of us reach for thirds or fourths.
When waitresses ask him how he’d like
his burger cooked, he says,
Burn it.
My grandfather hates the taste of meat.

Lasagna he’ll eat and call “edible.”
Food is food, he says,
but the clerks at the Route 1 Burger King
know him by name.
He admits that the French fries
make his ankles swell,
but then claims that eating his entire
birthday cake in two days
actually lowers his blood sugar.
He has the numbers to prove it.

Like a suicidal, he threatens
to stand in front of a bus
or stop taking his insulin.
It’s all talk: my mother says she grew up
in fear that he would die by forty.
Over the hill means under the ground,
he’d say over spaghetti.

Now, at 86, he’s even bought his own casket,
shows us the picture in the catalogue
like it’s a new car or a time share he’s considering.
I picture it locked in the basement
among the aisles of canned food
that should have been thrown out
long before my grandmother died.

My mother rolls her eyes at the pamphlet,
but later says she is relieved that he’s given up on
Just bury me in a bag, or
When I go, I want a drive-thru wake.

When my grandmother was alive,
the two of them would argue in front of us,
right over the potato chips.
His voice would be unyielding:
I didn’t say that, Lucille.

But as soon as she was gone,
the first day after her last night
in the last nursing home,
the pictures began to go up—
her cutting the cake on their 50th anniversary,
her face at 25.

He tells us that during the war,
he bought two bottles of Chanel No. 5,
shipped one to his mother, the other to his girlfriend.
The one to the girlfriend broke
on its way to America, he says,
and glances at a wedding photo
that I have never seen before,
guilt glimmering like shrapnel in his eyes.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008

[download audio]


Megan Collins: “When I was six years old, I wrote my first story called ‘The Bad Cats.’ Since then, I’ve defined myself as a writer, but I can’t explain to you why. Writing has always been as much a part of me as my eyes, mouth, arms, and any other physical feature I have. It’s just that simple.”

Rattle Logo