The Box of Poems
By Tim McHargue


Brent, my dear buddy, let me proffer an apology. I did not mean to add to your existential anxiety when I returned the box of poems holding 30 years of your poetry. When I heard you died 3 weeks later I hoped to God that I didn't nudged you closer to the edge or inadvertently contribute to your premature demise with that cardboard box of poems.

If I did, please forgive me, my friend. That was not, in any way, my intention. I really just did not know what to do with the box of poems. That damn box! I know for a fact that you sent me your years of poetic musings because I was one person that cared about your utterances. Maybe the only person that took the time to read your poetry. I often felt like I was an audience of one. I'd read your poems. I'd comment on them. I'd tell you which I liked (The Rattler; The Dichotomy) and which I did not care for (the formality of the villanelles, most sonnets, etc.).

I would engage you in dialogue-a conversation between the two of us which began when we met in grad school and continued until that last day I saw you alive. The Autumn day we went to see a local production of some fractured Shakespeare because you were in the mood for a laugh (chuckle?) and we chewed on the play, the state of the world and poetry over coffee afterwards at a student café in the university town you called home.

I had been trying to get you out of your student studio apartment (10 ft. x 40 ft.) where you'd lived for 25 years despite being an instructor at the university and not like everyone else in the walled-in concrete complex littered with bicycles, a student. You never quite graduated into "real people housing" mostly because you did not like change, resisted change at all costs, and I usually failed at this effort of getting you out of your cubbyhole and into the big wide world.
Except for this one last time, when I took the opportunity to drag that cardboard box of poems, that damn box, and deliver it on your doorstep. I tried to explain. I was out of space in my office closet and trying to winnow things that had been largely untouched for way too many years. I needed to make room for storage of my own cargo, I blurted out, but I realized this sounded, at the time spoken, as a shabby excuse.

Through the years, I had religiously read, collected and stored every collection you sent my way, always by U.S. Mail with loads of postage. Eventually I decided to store them in a box to keep from spilling into my photos and childhood mementos and my class materials and course syllabi. The contents of the "Brent" box grew through the years as you reorganized and revised your poetry collections and then revised the revisions. As computer technology improved and you transitioned from pen and paper and typewriter. Graphics were added and photos and fancy covers for the subsequent collections, all of which arrived at my doorstep by postal delivery.

Truth is, good buddy, the box began to bulge, the poems outgrowing the space in which they were confined and I began to worry they'd overflow or burst out of the box. Let's call it "poetry creep," but something had to be done, something had to go.

Another truth, or maybe a belated confession; I never, ever, looked in the box, not in 20 years (except maybe once when I cut up some of your photos and created decorative fractal collages that I sent to you with a cryptic comment like ("think outside the box!"). But I seriously never peeked at the poems after the initial purview and feedback to you. I was a little scared to approach them because I did not date your collections and neither did you so I never knew which was the latest and greatest edition. Neither did I have the stamina to pull out all the various iterations and try to ascertain which was which. Too many other obligations and demands on my time.

So the box became a pariah of a sorts to me-something I knew contained a treasure trove, a lifetime of well-crafted poetic expression, but one that was too daunting to ever revisit. It was a space-taker, one moved from here to there, from this shelf to that shelf, but never opened, never perused again and never something I envisioned spending time with.

The idea of just dumping the box of poems first came to me 6 months before our October rendezvous. I became convinced that this was the solution to the conundrum of never opening the box and needing more space in my office. You'd never know. Carry the box of poems out to the recycle, open the blue lid to the bin, and shazam! Gone in an instant.

But, something about this solution bothered me. The idea of throwing the box in the rubbish can and trashing your lifetime livelihood troubled me. That did not seem fair to you, despite the fact that you'd never asked about and probably never would ask about the multiple editions of poetry collections submitted to yours truly. You'd never inquired in the past-I don't think you even knew I saved them, despite my reputation of saving everything. Who does that, saves every edition of every poetry collection ever sent by a prolific poet friend?

But, I just did not feel good about the act of relinquishing your life's labor to the recycle bin of history. It did not agree with my own personal ethos and the respect I have for the poetic word. This is why I took advantage of our increasingly rare in-person meetings and decided to return the box of poems to your studio apartment.

My hope, actually, was that it would be quietly and quickly subsumed into the 25 years of accumulated accoutrements you had squeezed into and stacked up in your 10 x 40 foot living quarters. I hoped you would not notice my sleight of hand as I slipped the box of poems in your place. You did notice, although it took you a few moments to fully comprehend what I'd done; returned 25 years of your entire poetic oeuvre and every collection on which you spilled blood, sweat and tears.

I was informed in December that three weeks after our meeting you passed away. Whether by your own hand, or finally overcome by the disease for which you refused all treatment, or poisoning from the bottle to which you were addictedwho knows? I don't. Whether seeing the contents of your life's labor stuffed in a box, neat and tidy, contributed in any way to your premature departure, I don't know that either. Won't ever know, I suppose.

But, my dearly, departed buddy, I do sincerely apologize for depositing that box of poems in your apartment, abruptly, without warning, as if to say "it's your problem now." That was not my intent. I think I secretly hoped you'd curate these for me so that I might get the definitive edition of each from you, and that these might be added to the proper book shelve that houses my poetry collection. Maybe you could find a better use for your life's work than hidden away in my closet in a box labeled "Brent."

Now, I'll sit down and raise a cup of coffee to your memory and re-read one of your last creative efforts. (See following page.)

The Dichotomy
By Brent D.



Once I went to a wedding
Thinking it would be a funeral
In honor of the recently deceased
I rented a hearse and wore a black tuxedo
Hoping to kiss the bride
And tie strings of cans on the rear fender
To celebrate at the end of the ceremony
At the next funeral I attended
Thinking it would be a wedding
I drove a convertible Volkswagen Bug
With the top down in the spring breeze
And brought along a bottle of champagne
To a beachfront address assuming that
This young wild couple would get married
Barefoot in the sand overlooking the ocean
Much to my chagrin, the invitation card
Had been sent to the wrong address
With my name on it and nobody knew me
When I arrived in fact, there was a bonfire
On the sand that night but no funeral that I could find
Or wedding, either however
Getting ready to go home just at moonlight
I thought I saw a couple waltzing
Near the waves across the wet sheen sand
Into the darkness into the light
Dressed in wedding gown and tuxedo
The next day I phoned my agent and complained:
What's going on with all of these wrong addresses?
What are these anyway, prank calls?
And he said well I must not be your agent
And may be confusing you with another guy
Of the same name so I'll take you off my list then
In the next few days, my telemarketing messages
Began to change: several messages were advertising
Free vacations for two to the Bahamas
Or vacation spot of your choice
Just attend a free lecture on Real Estate first
(Apparently no specific dress code required)
And my junk postal mail began to advertise
The benefits of cremation over embalming
Which somehow seemed less than calming
Even my favorite doctor began calling
Saying if you are not a dancer we can give you cancer
Which somehow I found less than enthralling

Now when I go to weddings I bring gifts for the dead
And when I go to funerals I bring champagne instead


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