Text | Along the Willamette

…………..for D.H.

My friend tells me in a text
that his cat has stopped eating.
She’s in her last week, he writes,
and while I am reading this,
another text chirps in: Or last days,
it says. I consider calling him.
I’ve been where he is—on the precipice
of such grief, the kind that people
who don’t have pets dismiss.
Shouldn’t we find a better word?
Pets, as if all they’re for is us
to stroke their warm bodies,
welcome them onto our blankets
where at night they settle
on our cold feet or against
our backs or, the lucky ones,
our necks or chests.
But she still gives me a purr,
the next text says, though I’ve yet
to answer his first. And I begin
to understand he does not need
to have even one word from me.
He taps each letter with his thumbs
or a forefinger and imagines me
on the other end, as if this
were a phone conversation
and he can hear each breath I take.
Or he imagines we are at our favorite
café, sitting side by side, as we might have
if there had been no pandemic,
and he can feel through his own body
even the way my heart speeds up
as he speaks. And I would hear
the way his voice breaks at each
syllable. But we would not be
at the café. We’d be in his apartment
sitting cross-legged on the beige carpet,
the bright afternoon slowing down,
his cocoa-colored cat curled in his lap,
wheezing, then quieting, the two of us
not speaking, but petting and petting
her soft, still, unresisting fur.

Along the Willamette

At the river’s edge some kind of grassy plant
I can’t identify and detritus I can:
two blue almost collapsed helium balloons
and a silver one a foot or so above the water,
fighting to get away, its birthday message
in red, block letters for someone named Kate,
their strings tangled together in the river.

All year during COVID I’d stayed away,
but this morning, the air sweet and cool,
I wandered the six blocks to the river,
wanting an hour of my old life back:
my routine of walking the wide path,
maybe a few gulls, persistent pigeons,
early morning runners, people on bikes.

Everything I asked for is here.
And now the sun, held back by fat,
white clouds when I left my apartment,
breaks through, lighting the water.
Almost on cue, five kayaks paddle by
causing a rush of waves to knock
and knock against the bank, releasing
the silver balloon, which rises
into the bluing sky, and a dozen geese
in that familiar vee I’ve missed,
their long, black necks stretched
into exclamation marks above it, honk
almost in unison as if to celebrate.
“Happy birthday, Kate,” I say, happy
myself not to be anywhere else.

About Andrea Hollander

Andrea Hollander is the author of five full-length poetry collections and three chapbooks. Her many honors include two Pushcart Prizes (poetry and literary nonfiction) and two poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Several years after her move in 2011 from the Arkansas Ozark Mountains to Portland, Oregon, she established The Ambassador Writing Seminars, which she conducts in her home and, since the pandemic, through Zoom. Her website is www.andreahollander.net.

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