Katherine Lawrence, December 11 1954 – March 25 2004
This Isn’t a Story
I’m sorry, Katherine,
but dying isn’t a story.
I saw your careful outline,
your well-researched notes:
first the heroine died,
then her adventures began.
You knew every detail:
the ghost town by the river,
when the trains ran,
the reasons why bullets were
better than pills.
You wrote and rewrote
the opening scenes. Nothing more.
Because dying isn’t a story.
We argued about story. We argued
when you stopped writing.
No, edit that. I argued. You said
you’d keep your notes and walked away.
You understood pacing and tension.
You mailed your goodbyes as you drove out of town;
walked down to the river, leaned back, looked up at the sky—
But no. Dying isn’t a story.
The hikers who found you,
that was a story. The police officer
with the half-finished novel;
the county parks manager in cutoff jeans
who told us he was sorry,
who told us he’d done this before.
A story is a long drive home through the dark,
both my hands steady on the wheel.
Your empty apartment was a story,
at least once we opened the door:
The answering machine blinking its silence,
the solstice cards lining the hall.
The borrowed books set on the counter,
labeled with sticky notes, bearing our names.
Nothing left to the reader:
no loose ends, no unresolved threads.
But a story is messier than a body by a river,
a bullet to the head. A story is
your mother packing your dishes
and your silver and a fifth of Scotch,
filling out the paperwork
to transport your gun across state lines.
You had a promising start:
the opening lines, the rising tension,
the chilling sense of things
that couldn’t happen any other way.
But those things aren’t a story,
and dying doesn’t make them one.
You knew how to outline
and you knew how to plot.
So how could you not know
what all writers know,
I still don’t know.
I’m sorry, Katherine.
This poem isn’t a story,
but I’m not driving away.
I could rewrite this now, polish it a little–but I won’t. Sometimes, more polish doesn’t actually make a piece stronger, after all.
And another anniversary: Irvin Simner, August 11, 1936 – March 22, 2014.
Two years after losing my dad, I find I can see much more clearly both the gifts and the weaknesses he’s left to me.
Twelve years after losing Katherine, loss no longer seems a rare outrage. It seems a hard and terrible part of how the world works.
There’ve been other losses between these two, after these two. I’m coming up on the age Katherine had just turned the last time I saw her. That puts me a year out from the birthday she couldn’t bring herself to face.
It took less time to forgive my father than Katherine. I wouldn’t have expected that.
I don’t know how long it took to forgive Katherine, only that it was less than twelve years.