for Peter Sears, 1937–2017
Last time I saw Peter, was at the grocery store. He was nearing the end of his poet laureate tenure then and I asked him how busy he was. “It’s not that bad,” he said. “Every other weekend. It’s been fun.”
We were standing at the end of the aisle. You know, near the end cap — that’s what the stockers call them.
We talked about writing. “Keep shoving those poems around,” he said, “show ’em who’s boss.”
“I’m going to be away for a while,” he said, “and I want to store my sweaters. You know, from gettin’ messed up.” He said.
“What? By moths?” I asked.
“Yeah, by moths. And other shit, too.” He said. “I just don’t want them to get ruined.”
“Moth balls will help keep the moths away,” I said, “but they’ll make your sweaters smell funny.”
We looked at each other for a second or two. I could tell he was glad to see me. And I was glad to see him. Peter and I were in a poetry writing group for about a year or so. I was, what, 30 years younger than him, but he liked me and my writing, and we had fun. His book, The Brink floored me. I read it cover to cover. He liked that I was a dedicated reader. It had been a few years since our writing group, but we were glad to see each other.
“If you want to protect your sweaters,” I continued, “from moths and all the other shit, the best thing to do is to pack them into plastic bags. They make these kind of bags that you can suck all the air out. With a vacuum cleaner.”
“Yeah, that’s the ticket.” He sounded like a wide-eyed kid.
Just then, a stocker walked by and I launched into the, “hey, do you have these bags to store clothes in” thing.
“Right this way,” said the stocker, and Peter followed him down the center aisle, past all the end caps.
“You’re a good man, Eric. Keep pushing those poems around,” he said over his shoulder.
Thanks to Alison Clement for finding this poem.
I am following my father and mother,
following them although I don’t much like
the idea, and I don’t much like
that the distance to them grows smaller,
so small I’m catching up to them. You’d think
we’d have much to say to one another.
We don’t. My father motions me
to look back over my shoulder.
There’s my daughter following me.
That’s mean of him. I want to hail her,
tell her to slow down.
But I don’t. I turn back, they’re gone.