Poem of the Week | February 24, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Is This What People Mean?” by Mary Ardery!

Mary Ardery is from Bloomington, IN. Her work appears or is forthcoming in RHINO, Two Peach, Boudin, Fairy Tale Review, and elsewhere. Currently, she is pursuing an MFA at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she won the 2019 Academy of American Poets Prize and where she has served as Director of Programming for the Little Grassy Literary Festival and as an Assistant Editor for Crab Orchard Review. You can visit her at maryardery.com. Ardery was a finalist for TMR’s 29th Annual Editors’ Prize.


Is This What People Mean?


I see my dead around town: at a café
breaking a hot scone in half

to let the steam rise, or sometimes waiting
at the bus stop I drive by each morning—

we must commute in opposite directions.
It’s been two years since I worked direct care

and still, every day, I google the progress
of class action lawsuits against big pharma.

On my drive home, when an old Top 40 song
comes on the radio—one that reminds me

of those week-long shifts—I change
the station. But some days, if I have time

and I’m alone, I turn down a rural road
and turn up the volume.

It feels right to remember their voices
singing along to pop songs in the van

as I drove us into town for an NA meeting
or three hours on those hauls to the woods.

Is this what people mean when they say
time is not linear?

That if you pull to the side of a quiet road
and close your eyes,

you can hear your past—the dead singing.
You can feel someone

tap your shoulder, her breath on your neck
when she leans in to ask,

how much longer till we get where we’re going.


Author’s Note

I used to work as a wilderness field guide for a substance abuse program where many of the clients were affected by the opioid epidemic. Most of the women were my own age or older and we bonded over things like shared music tastes. Some are still in recovery today and some, tragically, have died. I think of them all, the living and the dead, every day.