I know I made arrangements for the trip.
But how I ended up in that small town
in Minnesota’s still a mystery,
living in a tiny wood-frame house
across from the Bait Shop whose bright sign
squealed a high A-flat in each strong wind,
emblematic of how far I’d come:
a business that survived on flat-worm sales.
The sublet house: the kitchen’s battered pots,
the freezer that would never fully freeze,
the lonely bed, dressed in its faded cotton.
Immigrants from Lappland, they still spoke
Sami (no, not Finnish) in their homes
two generations out; the cemetery
filled with names I’d never learn to say,
lengthened by those extra a’s and k’s.
Each morning I would cross the railroad tracks,
grain silos towering overhead, and walk
two blocks to the café, a patronage
I hoped gave me credentials of a sort.
A strange idea: remove all context, then
see who you become. I wanted this:
a borrowed life for one stolen season.
Two weeks out, with no clean underwear,
a plastic laundry basket in my arms,
coins rattling, I found the Laundromat.
What shock to push the door and find inside
three older women laughing. Trash bags piled
in heaps along the floor, windows steamed,
and all machines in use at once. Oh, my.
One of them detached. We’ll make some room.
She emptied out a washer. We don’t mind.
We plan to be here all day anyway.
All day? I eyed those landscapes of black bags
and just a little prompting got the tale:
three sisters, they descended once a year
from parts dispersed back to the family farm
where one brother, in unmarried squalor,
dutifully maintained the land. They came
for an annual clean: scrubbed down the house, his clothes,
cooked and froze a whole year’s worth of food.
It took about a week to do it all.
Drunk on the idea, I asked again:
He doesn’t do his laundry for a year?
Carl Sagan’s Turtleneck Sweater
They’ve got Carl Sagan’s turtleneck sweater
in a vitrine in the lobby of the National
Geographic auditorium. Did you see it?
It’s completely 70s; just perfect, Dan
reports. I think: someone manufactured
billions and billions of dated turtlenecks,
but that’s what Dan likes
about this display; it’s so modest
and ordinary. It doesn’t shout
Express that in parsecs.
Imagine touching Carl Sagan’s
sweatered biceps. Think of his barrel-chested
nerdy enthusiasm, his stringy black bangs
falling forward as he works out the math
for the surface temperature of Venus.
Kim Roberts is the author of four books of poems, most recently Fortune’s Favor: Scott in Antarctica (Poetry Mutual, 2015). She co-edits the journals Beltway Poetry Quarterly and the Delaware Poetry Review, and the web exhibit DC Writers’ Homes. Her website is http://www.kimroberts.org.