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More Than We Deserve

by Ruth Foley

  • At one point, my father turns to me
  • and says, You won’t write about this,
  • will you? Of course I won’t.
  • And I’ll claim I’ve filled in
  • the sort of invented detail poets use
  • to make our solitary truths more universal.
  • Of course my uncle didn’t toss
  • bag after bag from sandwich shops
  • onto the floor. Of course they didn’t
  • land among dead batteries, tortilla chips,
  • flattened tubes of lubricant for men and machines,
  • old magazines and newspapers,
  • three five-gallon buckets full of ash
  • from the coal stove. We didn’t find
  • bottle after bottle of unopened
  • anti-psychotic meds, enough for a year or more
  • or for a faster suicide than this.
  • Or seven different get-rich-quick schemes
  • ordered from the late night TV desperation wasteland.
  • Not those, either. The house we loved,
  • my grandmother’s house, was never sunk
  • knee-deep in his detritus or our shame.
  • It never held the kind of blame we didn’t
  • place upon ourselves. The books
  • weren’t piled in rotting boxes, we didn’t
  • find empty cans of chili and soup
  • crusted on the floor. We didn’t stop to think
  • of how he ate them cold, didn’t find the spoons.
  • The shelves weren’t full of cat hair
  • and destination DVDs. The worst of these
  • are things we cannot speak of,
  • so it’s a blessing that they don’t really exist—
  • the foot-high pile of shredded paper
  • his cats didn’t use as litter in the middle
  • of the living room, the stench that didn’t
  • rise to the skylights. Worse still,
  • the tiny scraps of the man who wasn’t there:
  • a fractured list of things to do (milk,
  • storage unit, job, nap, pills), a tiny pile
  • of photographs of his dead son and living daughter,
  • a book on staying sober in disaster. Of all the things
  • we do not find, these are the things that break us.
  • The truth is that we didn’t try
  • to find him again in those brief moments
  • when he fought to be the man he knew he was
  • somewhere. The truth is that we thought
  • he’d given up. The truth is that he thought
  • the same of us, and maybe we did too.
  • And if this house is full of all the things
  • that failed to give him purchase,
  • we know our job of clearing away
  • this stranger’s life—all its overt messiness,
  • all its honesty and naked human suffering—
  • is more than we deserve.


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