Two Poems

Poetry / Lauren Camp

:: Whether or Not or Neither ::

I call my father every three days on the white  
          phone so he can tell me about noon  
and its signal. I hold each meander  
          up to my head. He has lived past being a particular  
being and I have learned I can love  
          longer the last of his vanishing 
stories. His steady anxiety splits  
          my ghosts, and on Tuesday and Friday  
and any day I call him with such kindness  
          as I didn’t have years ago. He no longer  
settles a sentence. Whatever it’s worth, now  
          with him I’m all nectar. I’ve learned to be  
sleepless where coyotes find midnight  
          desirable. I expect bird forms and forests  
to help me recover from the dimming  
          of his echoes, that unmanageable  
folding. When I was last  
          by his sleeve, the woman next to me sobbed  
without hesitation every three  
          minutes and the orderly  
in the chair beside her bent in to her long  
          lonely face whispering Sandy,  
don’t cry. You’ll mess up your makeup. Each time,  
          Sandy was tugged to a quiet and sat perfectly  
focused on mist only she  
          could see. Outside the window 
were here and there and the gusts 
          of a future. Then Sandy’s plain  
lashes fluttered and I saw her eyes  
          find the surface and the pattern  
of tragedy, which is in me, in you, the drain  
          of so much reason,  
and the relief again of more tears. 



:: Guide to Getting Home ::

Let home now be scurrying cotton feather. I’ve let go  
where I grew to be in this flame-perfumed desert. Needed more  
than the slow small sun swung up to boxes of windows.  
After the school bus circled past maples, I would skip 
with domesticated hunger to our cul-de-sac,  
holding lined equations. If Jane. If Tom. Each fact.  
You can imagine our little existence: Atari and sitcoms.  
In her corner, my mother pinned hems.  
I made small glad movements: rendered my dinner fork and voice  
and something forgotten. What I mean is I feasted.  
My family went on saying things to each other  
then released to the blue sofa  
loopy on ’70s humor. I remember  
my Saturday dresses, but not  
the buttons. Later remember my mother’s lung  
with its stain. Rain, sleet, everything we lived between. Nothing  
was certain but grapefruit on weekdays and pigeons. 
Now that I’m in the desert’s spontaneous glitter, my home  
is steady and thick. A few rabbit tracks  
mark the whisks of last year’s grasses. Storm clouds, long spiders 
beside rhizome, petiole, cataphyll. The horizon changes  
and somehow I’m back to another turn up the stairs  
of that normal brown Tudor on a street  
with no precise name. The street we repeated
as we reentered each day with the least and I wasn’t afraid.  
Each time we vacationed, my mother plunked her feet  
on the dashboard while we took the distance  
to an average hotel in Boston’s low edges, a pool, a closed 
door, nothing worse. This was also a shape  
of divinity. Then we drove back. 




From the writer


:: Account ::

For sev­er­al years now, I’ve been writ­ing about fam­i­ly. When my father began show­ing signs of demen­tia at his 80th birth­day par­ty, sud­den­ly there was a lot to do to ensure the resources were in place to take care of him.  It was shock­ing to be mak­ing deci­sions for some­one else, some­one who had always been very vital, not to men­tion con­trol­ling. Much stress and ques­tion­ing sur­round­ed each action. My sib­lings had their own reac­tions, and I wrote through some of those. Through poet­ry, I have doc­u­ment­ed the years since then, his wor­ries and our wor­ries, some details of his new home (in mem­o­ry care) … all the way through writ­ing the obit­u­ary and plan­ning a funer­al. It was help­ful to have a way to craft the com­pli­cat­ed grief and sad­ness. This didn’t make it go away, but by giv­ing it a form and some cre­ative approach­es, I could focus to spe­cif­ic per­spec­tives and allow what was hap­pen­ing. “Guide to Get­ting Home” turns back through child­hood mem­o­ries, with a brief look for­ward, beyond what we knew then to what would come. It’s a quirky sort of plea­sure to play with time in a poem. 


Lau­ren Camp is the author of five books of poet­ry, most recent­ly Took House (Tupe­lo Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared in Ben­ning­ton Review, Beloit Poet­ry Jour­nal, Wit­ness, Eco­tone, Poet Lore, and oth­er jour­nals. Win­ner of the Dorset Prize, Lau­ren has also received fel­low­ships from The Black Earth Insti­tute and The Taft-Nichol­son Cen­ter, and final­ist cita­tions for the Arab Amer­i­can Book Award, the Housaton­ic Book Award, and the New Mex­i­co-Ari­zona Book Award. Her work has been trans­lat­ed into Man­darin, Turk­ish, Span­ish, and Ara­bic.