Left Behind

Have you ever gone into the house of someone who has recently died? Their life lays out there before you. The profound. The mundane. A jumble of unfinished business.

Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

Left Behind

What do you leave behind
when you die? Strange,
little things, once
beneath notice, stand still
as if the blur of this life
was, say, paused by the
TV remote you had placed near
the newspaper crossword puzzle,
partly completed.

A tube of toothpaste
lies by the bathroom sink,
squeezed and rolled
neatly from the bottom.
How did I not know this
about you? The collection
of Gorilla Tape in the
drawer? So many colors!
Neat files of bills labeled
in your last shaky handwriting.
My own desk is a mess. Toothpaste
crumpled, its top lost. A hole
in my heart. What do you
leave behind when
you die?

– Steve Peterson

To Make the Crooked Straight

For the want of a nail…Creative Commons License Jim « JP » Hansen via Compfight

The last few days I’ve been visiting the family cabin in the north woods. A small place with an outdoor privy, it was built from local tamarack and spruce logs in the late 1940s. While it isn’t fancy, it is filled with all sorts of memories of my extended family. Here’s a poem about my grandfather that tries to be about more than a can of old nails.

To Make the Crooked Straight

On a rusty metal shelf
that stood on the dirt floor
of the shed behind the house:
three rusted Arco cans
filled with bent nails
pulled from a thousand used boards,
and, also, with hope —
to save the unsavory
to make the crooked straight
once again.

– Steve Peterson

Small-Town Illinois Boy, 1974

Via Unsplash

Small-Town Illinois Boy, 1974

Some time it was,
it was a time of
muggy summer nights,
a yellow-moon that shone
through the corn-haze, past the
pulsing cicadas. Alice Cooper
yowled from the window
of a Mustang that crept
under the arching elms.
The red glow of a cigarette.
A tobacco threat exhaled
through the window into
the thickening air.
These bad boys of summer
are old and gray. Their
swagger sags. From the porch
couch, they watch the world pass by,
wondering if the kids will
finally call, or if they should
just pop another beer and be
done with it for the
rest of the evening.

– Steve Peterson