What we refer to confidently as memory is really a form
of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling.
~ William Maxwell
ON THE WAY TO WORK
Life is a bitch. And then you die.
—a bumper sticker
I hated bumper stickers, hated
the notion of wanting to be known
by one glib or earnest thing.
But this time I sped up to see
a woman in her forties, cigarette,
no way to tell how serious
she was, to what degree she felt
the joke, or what she wanted from us
who'd see it, philosophers all.
If I'd had my own public answer—
"New Hope For The Dead,"
the only sticker I almost stuck—
I would have driven in front of her
and slowed down. How could we not
have become friends
or the kind of enemies
who must talk into the night,
just one mistake away from love?
I rode parallel to her,
glancing over, as one does
on an airplane at someone's book.
Short, straight hair. No make-up.
A face that had been a few places
and only come back from some.
At the stop light I smiled
at her, then made my turn
toward the half-life of work
past the placebo shops
and the beautiful park, white
like a smokescreen with snow.
She didn't follow, not in this
bitch of a life.
And I had so much to tell her
before we die
about what I'd done all these years
in between, under, and around
truths like hers. Who knows
where we would have stopped?
by Stephen Dunn, from Between Angels. © W.W. Norton and Co.