Monica Berlin

The Monday I first hear the body count my father would have turned sixty-three. Rocking the baby to sleep, I wonder how I'd introduce them. This might be the year he's been my dead father as long as he was not. That I've lost track only occurs to me because my father loved that folksy Steve Goodman City of New Orleans train song. I can't call up his voice, but remember the needle skimming vinyl, my father laying hands against the speaker of that record player, more cabinet than turntable, to hear it.

Four years before this body count, numbers scroll the bottom of the T.V., the totaling dead change by the hour. My husband, working a murder trial, doesn't know I can't turn away. From our upstairs bathroom, late at night, I see a blur of bakers in a doughnut shop one block over. At this distance, the storefront lit up recalls a Hopper painting. But the Hoppers I love hold those women turning away, and a bed or a chair. Tugging the blinds I watch everything fill with tolls. Each body piling up belonged to a name or once longed or was held.

That's true, right? Everybody's head once cupped in the palm of another? My friend N lived across from the doughnut shop, his will power impressive. When I called him a holdover from another time, a throwback­, I meant it as a compliment. I'm only thinking of this because N and his wife grew a vegetable garden shaped like a small boat. In the morning, when everyone's at work, I walk the baby by in his stroller and imagine climbing aboard, setting us adrift, though I still can't swim.

One of my mom's greatest disappointments might be her children always afraid to get their faces wet. Her watery grace stilted, standing shore-side, begging us to just touch our toes in the lake. My father made excuses, not wanting to leave his hearing aid on a towel. If my son ever asks after my great disappointment, how to ensure he never thinks I was? How to hand him this world? What I meant about N was, I hope to know him in other times. He remembers to hold the door open for others. He rises from his chair when his wife enters. He collects broken things and fixes them. He makes soup from bones.





Seems to me, disaster is always disaster no matter the particulars. When the river's running backward, what's left behind is more than silt. I wanted to make a poem where catastrophes, large and small, merge, and where whatever floated by somehow could be saved.