Epistle to AS Coomer
Don’t tell me about your summer
in that tinny singing voice cicadas love.
Don’t tell me about spilled coffee
in July. It’s 4am in Elsinore,
and my father is stumbling around the parapet
like a satyr, listening to the radio
broadcast cut the static with inane songs
and cataclysmic forecasts. News,
and news of news. I remember,
having never been there, the pea-green millpond
they tried to resurrect in Owensboro.
I won’t tell you I’m an understocked
pay lake the locals have learned to avoid.
I won’t tell you, Coomer, about grief.
Someone’s in the subdivision
(and like you I use “subdivision” as a synonym
for “story) selling roofs and windows,
both lauded features of any house, the roof
for its necessity in fending off
the elements, the window for its sightlines
into lake, meadow, forest, bay, ocean,
boulevard, and lane, yet the window refracts
heat on summer afternoons and invites cold
drafts on winter nights, serving as a portal
to those old ghosts we didn’t know
were stowed away. I’m not thinking
of buying windows any time soon,
but I’ve been thinking about Robert Creeley’s
acatalectic cadences and the black patch
like an occluded window over his missing left eye.
There’s never a good time to bring up price,
but you paid $20 for my book while graciously
(I almost wrote “gracefully”) sending a copy
of your novella for free. What we inscribe
to each other inevitably falls flat,
but I owe you several drinks next time.
At Stalets’ old place on the historic west end of Toledo
one afternoon, we had a songwriter round
on the big front porch. I don’t remember any songs,
but I remember that picking pattern of yours,
part Merle Travis, part 90s palm-muting hell,
a rolling finger-picking pattern followed by a stop.
In this deciduous forest of ours, it’s hard
to know if it’s better to rake the notes
or just strum them and let them blow
around to eventually rest and putrefy.
There’s isn’t much we do that’s good
for the soil. We were cautiously sad
when you moved back south. Mountain passes
in mid-June need no more beauty to throw
into the chasm and none of us have the capacity
for valedictory joy. I can see the tankers,
gravel haulers and cargo trucks for miles
along these plains as you can see a couple
distant planets in that pristine sky
above your hill. This is all a lot like saying,
“Let’s get a drink and visit,”
while knowing that the latest occultation
might spell calamity. “Inspiration is for dullards,”
you told me outside Fifth-Third Bank Field
one night after we watched the Mud Hens lose.
“The rest of us unspool our livers
and assess the damage.” No one but myself
has staked me anywhere, Coomer,
but once I thought of you as the Prometheus
of northwest Ohio. It’s 4am in Elsinore.
I recite your poem about spilled coffee;
it’s too late to play guitar.
Cal Freeman is the author of the books Fight Songs (Eyewear, 2017) and Poolside at the Dearborn Inn (R&R Press, 2022). His writing has appeared in many journals including The Oxford American, River Styx, Southword, Passages North, and Hippocampus. He currently serves as Writer-In-Residence with Inside Out Literary Arts Detroit and teaches at Oakland University.