(So I am not at home here.
Since way back in the Seventies I’ve been trying,
but then I’ll see something, like on the way to
a funeral, along Coast Highway there’s
a lone white heron picking at weeds
in the salt marsh, silent apostrophe
in the blunt blocks of condos, new ones every day,
walls of plywood and rebar pushing up
to the edge of the clotted four-lane,
overdone tourists toting boogie boards
and frowns along crowded crosswalks.
How can I love where the heron disappears
into a swamp of teeshirts, yogurt and tattoos?
Jeezus, it’s so sad, all the big hard edges, all the
short-lived ripples of the little birds.)
In the lush clubhouse courtyard, where people
line up to parse the departed and
nibble catered chimichangas, I feel my throat
constrict again as it has been all spring with pollen from
the slutty mulberry, walnut and ash. Or is it the bloom
of mortality in the bleached midday light? Or
here’s a truth: I was scared of the deceased
until the day he died, which is why I’m here.
When people called him sonofabitch
I sensed they meant it fondly, but I never got it.
I wasn’t expecting so much laughter. My old friend Alan
brings me a cold limonata and, penned into the
crowd of mourning raconteurs, everybody telling stories
about everybody else they could think of—for the fun of it,
for being alive when the dead guy’s not,
in the grievously glaring sun—I wrap my hand
around the frosty can and I am glad to have it to hold and
my old friend says how he won a prize once for writing a
story about cockfighting and how he just did the whole thing
over the phone. He never set foot in a cockfight and he
says he never would and we are both laughing
like in the old days we shared with the dead guy
who scared me, and my throat is still tight but I
don’t care and it feels so good, it’s so funny
and I love my old friend and I remember how it used to
feel to laugh all the time when I was afraid and now I’m feeling
great and letting the laughter roll out more, feeling it in
my stomach and my heart at the hilarious funeral,
letting it all go—even the sadness of the fleeting heron.
Jan Worth-Nelson commutes between San Pedro, CA and Flint, MI. She is retired from a long career as a writing teacher and college administrator at the University of Michigan-Flint. Her essays, fiction and poems have appeared in Christian Science Monitor, Controlled Burn, Driftwood, Dunes Review, Fourth Genre, Michigan Quarterly Review, Passages North, the Detroit Free Press, the Daily Breeze and most recently Midwestern Gothic and The MacGuffin. Her autobiographical novel Night Blind explores her experiences in the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga. She is the editor of Flint-based East Village Magazine.