In Their Own Words
Sally Delehant's “It's Always Something”
Yesterday the wind took our picture
off the wall over the piano; birds chirped
their curt symphonies in the box elder. I thought
of you— your obvious loveliness, your obliviousness
to lost things. An ambulance blinks two lanes over,
a restaurant goes under, your little niece kicks off her shoe.
We pantomime infatuations, put on scarves.
You'll never again speak to your father. What was
once my knee in a theater is tired eyes at a kitchen sink;
we fall into us. A squirrel upsets the feeder, hangs by one leg
and reaches. (Even my feet are angry.) You tromp in
muddy leaves, test the alarm, whisper lub-dub.
Silvered streets gird our apartment. I fasten
my parka to leave. Everywhere muck, newspapers,
a blanket— our neighbor in flip-flops has forgotten her key.
I daydream the ocean, your hand on my ankle.
I'll walk without stopping, won't care if I ever do. The wind can whip
its wants, can rattle each thing, rip roofs from shingles
at angles. I'll think of you— forgetting
which switch is a light and which the disposal,
climbing on my back at a carnival, quieting
after pendulum hung work days. The streetlights
have been on for an hour. Nothing will let me come to you.
From A Real Time of It (Cultural Society, 2012). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
On "It's Always Something"
My mother died on Easter morning of 2007 when I was 22-years-old. Just weeks prior to this event, I'd been accepted to Saint Mary's MFA program in poetry. I spent the summer in Omaha, Nebraska cleaning out our family's house, which felt like closing a wound that kept reopening. Many nights I'd end up sitting on a closet floor reading her books, trying on her jewelry, or just living in the smell her clothes. Ultimately, I ended up donating almost everything. There are photographs in storage, but the life of an extraordinary person yields a lot of stuff. The shedding of things and memories was necessary, but by summer's end I was desperate to escape the Midwest. The guilt I feel for leaving my dad and brother during that time is still with me. It was like a ship had sunk and we each had a tiny piece of debris to climb on to stay afloat, and if someone tried to share yours you would both sink. I drove toward California with the intention of putting my past behind me and starting fresh in a place where no one knew of my loss— as if it is possible to escape one's grief.
I took my first serious relationship with me, and so we shared a one bedroom apartment at the base of Mount Diablo just outside of Moraga. As the months passed I grieved mostly privately, but I remember waking him in the middle of the night with my panic— pleading with him to tell me where she was. The most obvious but vivid part of death is that someone is no longer where you think she is. The idea of the person in space and time is extinguished. Over the two years of graduate school while I was writing the first poems that became A Real Time of It, I attempted to love with part of my heart missing. And maybe that's what art is. You write or read or see something one day that makes your life feel whole again. Something that's been stolen or dislodged gets put back into place inside you however briefly.
This poem and the book trace feelings of not being able to love wholly and the resulting relationship's gradual decline. Both titles suggest struggle and bear Midwestern colloquialisms, which like my grief I don't think I will ever outgrow. I am not innately drawn to confessional poetry, or at least I wasn't prior to my mom's death. However, I cannot seem to stop writing it. Some poems in A Real Time of It are language experiments to me now. The ones that stay with me though have the clearest narratives. This one is like that. I appreciate its tone. It's open and honest even if it is resigned. To some extent I think I will always feel like the speaker in the poem's last moment— trying to come in the house after the streetlights have come on, trying to let someone be part of my inner life.