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March 11, 1999 - Image 23

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-03-11

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12B - The Michigan Daily - Literary Magazine - Thursday, March 11, 1999
In Three Minutes
By Joe Fletcher

The Michigan Daily - Literary Maga2

I want a clean table downtown,
where the windows steam with breath
and hot milk.
And outside the sunlight spilling between build-
ings
and the man on crutches.
And his dog.
I want to make sense of the spray paint in the
alley
behind the restaurant,

pause for a cigarette among the milk crates.
Above me blossoms spilling out of win-
dows,
bright beards hanging.
I want time:
to read, to play the viola,
to drive with the windows down,
autumn blowing in across my face.
There is a lake that will never be re-visited,

soft mushrooms bursting in the shade
of a cedar forest.
And Julio, Julio Cortazar, I will not shake
your hand, I will not look into your eyes,
which lived, which loved.
You were thinking of old friends
who sat watching clouds in Sweden, far off.
You wondered what they might be saying,
if anything.

Perhaps you dreamt of a field near Buenos
Aires
in which a bean harvester rusted
among the weeds.
Julio, I might never know.
I can say that in Ann Arbor it is autumn.
Little yellow leaves blow beneath my chair.
I have read the poems you wrote
and am thinking of you here.

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CLEAN
Continued from Page 41
You've been coming here every Sunday
for a year. Don't tell me you got lost
again."
"Not lost, I just got turned around
over by the hospital, all those damn
one-way streets - what's the matter?"
she interrupts herself, as. she's untan-
gling her purse from herright arm and
noticing me for the first time.
"Nothing, what?" I say, deliberately
adjusting my face from a shell-shocked
to an amused expression.
"You just seem funny," she says a bit
too directly.
"I'm fine," I answer. " I'm just tired.
Adam stopped by last night for a little
while."
"Oh that's good," she says, and this
strikes me as a funny way to respond. "I
always liked Adam. What's he doing
these days?"
"Not much really, just working,
going to school." Her eyes sort of
brighten at the sound of those two
words. Before I let her ask anything
else, I'm filling her hands with her own
Tupperware and a bag of coffee that I
get free from the cafe every week.
"Did you eat all of that spaghetti?"
she asks, looking at the permanent
orange grease stain on the plastic.
"Yeah," I lie, gathering up my clothes
into a basket.
"You didn't eat it," she says, and even
the words seem to shrug and sigh.
"I did," I insist, trying to decide if I'm
irritated with her or sorry. "Janine and I
had it for dinner twice;' I say, trying to
picture my vegetarian roommate swal-
lowing a big hunk of tomato-drenched
Italian sausage.
"See, I told you you guys would eat
it," she says, now convinced and more
satisfied with the empty bowl in her
hands.
I shimmy through the door with my
laundry basket, retrieve a stray pairof
panties from the pitifully balding front
lawn and make it all the way to the curb
before I feel the look on my mother's
face. She's standing in the street, with
an enormous smile and a deep red flush
creeping into her cheeks -just like my
sister when she gets really excited over
something. I've never seen it happen to
my mother though, and for a second I
wonder if she's having a heart attack or
going crazy.
"What are you smiling at? Where's
the car?" I ask, sounding more than a
little bit nervous.

"Here," she says, motioning to a
rusty little Temnpo and jingling a set of
keys for verification.
"What? Whose car is that?" I ask,
thoroughly bewildered.
"Yours," she says, and actually gig-
gles.
"Mine?"
"Yours."
The car goes blurry as my eyes flood
with tears, disappearing and reappear-
ing like a mirage as I blink. "Mine?
Mom, how?"
My mother has a terrible habit of liv-
ing beyond her means. She's spent the
majority of our lives trying to compen-
sate my brother, my sister and I for
years of government cheese and using
dish soap for shampoo - most of
which we didn't notice at all anyway
except for her crying as she lathered up
our hair. I think about all the things
she's bought since she married David
and worry that she'll end up in bank-
ruptcy again.
"Why did you do this, Mom? You
can't afford to do this." But now she
looks indignant.
"Would I have done it if I couldn't
afford to?" She asks, and I have to catch
myself from mouthing the words as she
says them. "Besides, I never spent the
money from the Escort we sold when you
were sick. It really didn't cost much more
than that. You've been doing so well ...
Listen, don't take this away from me. It's
something I wanted to do."
I smear the water from my eyes with
the back of my hand to get a better look.
It's a sorry little tin can of a car, really.
But it's mine - mine to come and go
with a sense of independence I can
barely remember. Mine. And all I had to
do to was keep from getting "sick."

I'm crying and petting the hood of
the car like it was the nose of some
moon-eyed pony. Mom's crying and
petting me. She holds my face with
both hands, handling me like she's
arranging a bouquet or presenting a
love-labored strawberry pie to the table.
I've spent so much time being grate-
ful or sorry lately that I can hardly artic-
ulate either anymore. Like the
Christmas presents. I mean, on the one
hand you can't get upset with someone
for giving you Christmas presents. But
on the other hand, it was really more
than I could take - coming home in
April from jail, rehab and the whole bit
to a bed full of boxes, wrapped in red
and green and Santa-faced paper.
Carrying that paper out with the spring-
time trash, all I could think of was my
mother wrapping socks and underwear
(more thermal stuff than any other year)
while I was nodding-out on the bath-
room floor of the Star Motel. I can't
wear it and I can't get rid of it. I don't
know what's worse - the sweatshirt
with the junkie-burnhole from falling
asleep with a lit cigarette, or the K-mart
long underwear bought because my
mother figured I had or soon would sell
my winter coat. Everything I own is
broken, stolen, sold, or missing a piece.
Or, it's a deliberate replacement and I
swear to god sometimes that's worse.
"You just have to promise me two
things," Mom says, smoothing my hair
away from my face and off my neck.
"Promise me," she says, now staring at
the sidewalk, "promise that you'll wear
your seatbelt. And promise ..."
My eyes beg her not to say it.
"Well, just one thing I guess. Just
promise me that one. And don't smoke
in it. There, that's two."

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