Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt

 

 

To Find What Isn't Missing

                    to the memory of Jim Berlin

They say there's a hum in everything,
a universe getting ready, and quite unlike
the rag collector's morning clamour below
our balcony in Delhi, the shout to begin
the student march in Seoul, a street evangelist's
alarms in London, the pregnant beggar's
call in Budapest to her cohort
across the street, night-cap screams
of the church elder at his newest wife
in the flat below in Midland, Texas,
cacophony of crows escorting the black
and white of a nest-robbing eagle
across the clear-cut on the Harrison
River trail, a straight-line raucousness
fading toward the west

The jet-lag sleep, the hum
of waking that takes its place, daybreak
simple as feet touching the floor and the rat-
a-tat outside the window emptying itself
of repetition: the dead walnut tree's
grey nakedness found by the sun
and commandeered by the red and black
of the woodpecker's walk up the tree's spine

Nowhere but here, the journal notebook open
on the night table, yesterday's in-flight entry brief

         the purpose of travel:
         adapt consciousness to world

         the purpose of writing on travel:
         adapt world to words

         the purpose of reading on travel:
         adapt consciousness to words

         the purpose of travelling without a list
         of what you’ve lost:
         find what isn’t missing . . .


My wife's bare shoulders and teal housecoat
shrugging off the chill, our Boston terrier
shivering at the door in his deep sleep
nose against corkscrew tail, a trio
of neighbours jogging through their breath,
Jim in the lead, explaining with his hands,
and then their absence, like patience settling in

I pour my wife an over-full cup
of strong coffee and ask
whether we're done with travelling this year.
"One suitcase will have to be replaced"

A question of readiness. Like Jim,
for years the first one up for the family trip, dressing
in the dark, loading his car in white-stocking feet,
legs and arms nervous with intention because he knew
wife and sons were about to dress
and he would soon have packed as much as needed,
maps stuffed into the passenger-side pocket
because he had memorized roads in advance,
all of them important, like starting over

When we mused our new car from the Montreal
pier to the Pacific the sun rose behind us
and berserk flies escaped through the chill
of the car's cracked window. Each day
cross winds on the wheel eased off
and horizon by horizon the plains unfolded
their calm. Once home we unpacked our cargo — a few
disappointments, cartons, suitcases and fatigue —
and fell asleep before we went to bed

But Jim, you would unpack your car,
find your jogging shoes and run for an hour,
the usual route. That’s how they found you

There's a formlessness within us all,
incomprehensible, out of the pale,
and lying close together will not help.
No faint-edged sky to hold the mind,
what can be done poised against nothing-at-all


and there's bereftness, even in counting steps
to the basement to inspect the children’s numbered
cartons taped more than once for a move.
Turn each on its side to the window
to see if time has bled its grey through
the bottom, if the scrawl on the largest box
is legible. The children far from what
they left behind, and they may have taken too little
with them of what they need

A small start of mildew,
but only on the tallest box heavily
taped, its sides slack when boxes next to it
are moved away. One day I'll open that box,
a morning when we aren't going anywhere.
The silver knife a man in Cold-War Prague
traded for a Canadian monthly magazine
will cut the tape cleanly and the box
will open almost by itself as though
time and place are still the same
as cities where our children once stood
shoulder to shoulder among other children
with what one day might seem apocryphal
or be forgotten by them all

The box was much too large to start with
considering what goes missing over time,
but it’s emptiness I fear, contents removed
several at a time, unrecorded
inventories, nothing to be repacked
or sent on, and in the end the top
freshly re-taped out of habit, as if
to regulate what's left inside. The only name
on the box crossed through by one of the children,
someone who’s figured out the more a box
is emptied the more is missing, and only
the emptiness belongs to us.
Jim, you would have said check it out,
most things can be used
and so
should be taken along.
I imagine you sweat-laced from the run
bending down to grasp
this box sagging into itself,
lifting it carefully with both arms, not
tightly, moving it closer to the light

to find what isn't missing

©Leonard Neufeldt. Holm (Alfred Gustav Press, 2016).

 

 

   

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