Poem of the Week | October 12, 2010

This week, we present “Scale” by John Evans, which is part of a sequence of poems appearing in the current issue of TMR (33.2). Evans is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where next fall he will be the Jones Lecturer in poetry. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, theSouthern Review, Gettysburg Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and elsewhere. His chapbook, Zugzwang, was published in November 2009 by RockSaw Press. Formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in Bangladesh and a middle school teacher, he serves as executive director of the Katie Memorial Foundation (KMF), a nonprofit organization that promotes grassroots international public health work in the developing world. He lives in San Francisco.

Author’s Note: “In the months after my first wife’s death, during periods of intense withdrawal, I would write feverishly. I did not attend closely to the craft of the poems; in experiencing raw and overwhelming emotion, I wanted to capture, without affectation, the sensibilities of grief and mourning. I set a goal of writing at least one clear and honest poem per month. As time passed, these poems captured how grief and loss evolved from month to month. I experimented with organizing them out of chronological order; I wanted the poems, as a group, to reflect the urgency, maybe even the lack of sense, in trying to recapture lost time. ‘There Are No Words,’ ‘Scale,’ ‘The New Beautiful,’ and ‘When the Detectives Arrived Sunday Morning’ are at the heart of this sequence. ‘When the Detectives . . . ‘ speaks directly to the futility of responding to one kind of violence with another. ‘Elegy with Boardwalk,’ ‘Eclogue’ and ‘Round and Round,’ also part of the series, attempt to engage the contradictions, reconciliations and optimism inherent in loving again after suffering the traumatic loss of a spouse.”


      Nineteen Months

That spring I pursued the other side of anxiety.
I measured exact distances wherever I went:
days since your death, weeks until your birthday,
how many steps it took to cross the interstate park
where every three weeks the billboard changed
until Oscar season. How I missed being in love.
How I wanted to explain: I miss being in love.
The night your brother stopped talking to his wife
I knew it meant I’d have to choose sides.
I sat dumb and silent, smiling weakly at everything.
At the climbing gym he got faster up the hard-candy steps,
his fingertips smooth and dull. Your nephew
and I registered online an animatronic vulture
whose virtual home contained separate rooms
for each family member. The week he finally
blew out his back your brother slept on the sofa.
He said he didn’t want to wake the kids.
Each time he hobbled to the medicine cabinet
the television drowned out his sighs and moans.
I sat in my room listening carefully to music
I knew would make me weep.
Sleeping pills erased the dark room.
Through the window his truck engine turned over four times
before it began its morning loop around the city.