Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MARGE, by HAYDEN CARRUTH

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MARGE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Look, friend, you got troubles? Like it's
Subject(s): Death; Friendship; Old Age; Dead, The

Look, friend, you got troubles? Like it's
damn hard figuring what
it all means, right? Right. So let me
tell you. The Pizza Hut

won't throw out a couple old guys
like us, it's a slow night,
we had our supper, now we're just
gabbing, eh, with a mite

more coffee if you can call this
coffee, and what would you
give for a real old-time mug
right now instead of who

knows what this cup is, pressed glue -- why
hell, a lunger like me
even could blow it out the door.
So let me tell you. We

were close like that, Margery and
me, close as two fingers
until she died last night. And no
funny stuff, what was hers

was hers, and mine was mine, and besides
she was 25
years older than me, though sometimes
you couldn't tell. A live

wire she was. M-A-R-G-E-R-Y,
that's how she spelled
her name, she said it was English,
from England, and her elder

brother got killed in Flanders.
Could be. But for sure she
was born in Orange, N.J., I
saw it written out legal

on her death certificate
this afternoon. Well, I'm
the only one left to handle
her affairs at a time

like this. But now you got to go
back maybe 15 years
when I was near 45 and
she was 70. Here's

how it was. I had me a nice
little business going,
o.k.? -- contracting, out around
Camillus, the phone ringing

all the time, money coming
in pretty good. The wife
did the bookwork, I did the rest,
and I don't know, but life

seemed to be humping along without
too much trouble. Plenty
of work in those days. Usually
had 5 to 10

hands on the job, with all the taxes,
codes, insurance, and
that stuff, red tape like you wouldn't
believe, but the wife handled

it, she even liked it, all
that figuring. Jesus!
Then we got divorced. No use explaining,
the both of us

were nuts, I think, bored crazy, but
if you haven't been through
it you can't really understand,
though like as not you do,

these days practically everyone
knows how it is. Well,
I tried to keep going. But the
truth is I had one hell

of a time with hired accountants,
and I was boozing too,
half skunked by 10:30 every
morning. So what else? You

know as well as I do. Sure, the
business went, then I went
too. Ended up selling the Olds
to eat with and to rent

me a basement room here in Liverpool,
down in the village
on Aspen Street. Been living
there ever since. What'll

happen now? I'll have to get out,
that's obvious. But damned
if I know where to. No picnic,
being 60, chest crammed

with rock wool and a million cigarettes,
what's left of it.
So Marge was the landlady, she
had this 5-room cape sitting

on a 150-foot
lot with half the basement
fixed up for a roomer, kitchen
privileges, place

for a car. I'd bought an old heap
by then. So I moved in,
and soon we were friends, shared our meals,
maybe went out for dinner

once a week, the movies, et
cetera. But mostly
we sat and talked. Why? What did she
want with a lush? Well, she

figured she could save me, see, and
she was the saving kind,
but a good one, you know? -- no lectures,
no getting me lined

up to be converted, nothing
like that. She was solid
gold all through, no plated stuff.
Booze wasn't quite forbidden

in her house, she'd nibble a
sherry herself once in
a while, but she made it clear; no
scotch, no vodka nor gin,

and the first time I got smashed I'd
be out -- out on my ear,
you understand? But of course I
did it, that was damn near

inevitable, I got juiced
but good, boiled like a cabbage,
three days in the pressure cooker,
crocked, and next day rabbity

as an ice-cube in a
skillet while I packed my
gear. But she come in. She come and
leaned on my bedpost, sighing

a bit, and she said, "Neut --" that's
what she called me because
you see my name is Spaid, Charlie
Spaid, I know it ain't plausible

but it's true, S-P-A-I-D,
and when I told
her I'm Mr. Spaid she gave a
shiver like she was cold

and said you must mean Mr. Neutered,
don't you? -- so now she
said, "Neut, I changed my mind. You can
stay if you swear off, teetotal

off, and join the AA.
And if it'll help
I won't take no more myself." I bust
out bawling then. And by

Jesus, Joseph, and Mary too,
I did it. I quit. Not
one sip from then till now, you know
what I'm saying? The bottom

line is death, and I'm still living.
I went to AA
three times a week at first. Don't knock
it, plenty guys from way

down in the hole have come back up
alive because of it,
and plenty dames too. It's great to
see. One friend of mine, little

guy named Cheever, came in the
same time I did, and he
was already 65. "How
come?" I said. "You ask me,"

I said, "at your age I'd go on
out sozzled." But he said,
"Yeah, that's one way of looking. And
then there's another. Dead

I can take, but who wants to die
puking all over someone
else's furniture?" By God,
that hit me. I won't come

to disremember that in a
hurry, no sir. But back
to Marge. She taught me how to play
cribbage. You got a knack

for cards? Not me, but I learned good
enough to beat her maybe
one out of six, and the game
wasn't much anyway,

not for either of us, because
the main thing was just relaxing
like, you know, talking, laughing
hard enough to bust

our crankcases, and drinking iced
tea, oceans of it, summer,
winter, spring, fall, it didn't
matter. We loved it. From

then on I was o.k. Marge got
me a job on the grounds
out at General Electric
through a cousin. It sounds

goofy, I guess. But I was fed
up to here with being
a boss, husband, lover, father,
the whole schmeer. A damn dingbat,

that's what a man is in this
world today. I resigned.
I was single, but I had a
real friend. Never could find

anything like that in the younger
broads that got into
my bed. So at night Marge and me
played cribbage or made do

with whatever was on the tube.
Fridays we went to the
bank and the Price-Chopper. Weekends
out of town, like to a

state park, Beaver Lake or the falls
up the Salmon River.
It went that way for ten years. Then
Marge got cirrhosis -- her,

not me! -- then shingles in her mouth
and nose, phlebitis, fainting
spells. She'd keel over right off
her chair, then wake up painted

head to toe with her own vomit.
Her teeth got loose, eyesight
not so good. In the hospital,
then out. What could I

do? In and out, in and out. She
lost 40 pounds. Finally
she had a stroke, but not quite
good enough, she lost all

feeling from the neck down, no control,
she was blind, paralyzed,
couldn't talk right, she was helpless.
But she knew whereabouts

she was, and why. Two and a
half years she lay there, clear
enough to know what's coming down
but not enough to gear

herself up for it, so to speak.
Two and a half years, that's
a hell of a long time to be
in the line of fire. Rats

have it better, you know that? "Neut,
take me home, take me home."
She'd wail it out like that. Ho-o-o-m-me!
My lungs turning to foam,

no money, what could I do? It
killed me. Two and half
years. Nobody should have to die
that way, nobody. After

a while she just cried, all her
strength gone. Then finally
she had another one, massive,
and five days later she

went under for the last time, just
a few minutes before
I came for my daily visit.
When I went through the door

to her room I knew she was gone
even though she looked the
same, all shrunk up. Well, you got to
say for her it was a

break, there's no one should be tortured
like that, but for me -- what
am I going to do now, with
old Marge gone? Not much butter

on my bread these days, no two
ways about it, I ache
for her something awful. You know
that? It begun to take

quite some time back too. So now I'll
have to move, and the disability
don't pay much rent
either, so I'll get this

spongy chest down to the old hotel,
I reckon, where all
the other old guys are rooming,
where I can watch the crawling

traffic on the main drag and
catch the sun when it shines
once every ten days, a second-floor
window, creeper vines,

an outside sill where I can put
seed for the sparrows. That's
not too much to ask, is it? Once
I had a dog, two cats,

and Marge. Why don't I go to the
Senior Citizens? Have
you ever tried it? I did, but
just once. Sat on a davenport

and watched the tube. Played cards,
and one guy forgot his
turn, he didn't put down a card,
staring at some invisible

something, like we all do,
and the rest of us waited
without saying anything,
not waiting for the eight

of clubs or the jack of hearts or
whatever, just waiting --
you understand? Not like AA
at all. Marge always dinged

it into me how you got
to keep fighting, otherwise
you lose yourself and turn into
a thing, like a burr

in a dog's ass, that's how she put
it, something to be got
rid of. But look at her. Was she
fighting at the end? Not

likely. And me? Emphysema
is slow, gradual, yet
you wind up on your back, crazy
for one more cigarette,

concentrating every bit of
energy and thought on
getting one more breath. Is that fighting?
Or is it more honorable

to take things into
your own hands. I remember
my friend Alf years ago who
shot himself with a Remington

.22 up in the
woods. He looked so peaceful
laying there with his head resting
on a mossy stone. Null

and void, that's for sure, but at least
he looked like himself. Marge
looked like old, like rotten. So I
won't be getting much charge

out of the good old days while I'm
sitting in my window,
no sir. Once I heard a guy say
on some kind of talk show,

"Nostalgia is the poison of
old age." I never forgot
that. No, I'll be thinking about
Marge and me, or more

about what we really are, her
dead now, me in this mess,
and what it really means. Things or
people. Well, I don't guess

my thinking will amount to much,
but that's what I have to
do. No choice, is there? So take
care. I'll be seeing you.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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