At first, I did not recognize the Haiku Master standing in the porch light so late at night. Who was this old man, so tall and frail he might any second tip over, fall slowly, stiffly, lightly like a hollow tree?
I did recognize the white shirt the Master wore. A style of shirt you used to see worn by men in the Southwest, shirts of thin cotton, short-sleeved, pin-tucked up and down the front, two pockets, square-cut bottom. And then I remembered all the members of the Master’s haiku circle wore this shirt, a uniform of sorts. The same shirt I myself was wearing, one of my father’s. The day before, a month after my father’s funeral, I had left my husband behind and driven down from Denver to Cortez to clean out my father’s house—couldn’t put it off anymore. I found a bunch of these shirts in the back of his closet and put one on. The gesture a combination of nostalgia—the shirts reminded me of my father when he was younger—and the ruthless practicality required after a death. Good cleaning clothes, then good dust cloths, then I’d throw them out.
His coffee lasts. It’s what he starts his mornings with, early, and then he drinks half a cup in the mid-afternoon. It keeps him company. Maybe the smell of it fresh is the reason he keeps sipping it, even after it’s gone cold. Or maybe he has other reasons. Maybe he feels a certain duty, a responsibility toward it. His coffee, poured into a paper cup, changes in color, shape, and size each day, depending on the kiosk he buys it from. The man and his coffee spend the whole day together, and then he leaves it on his desk or the first ledge he sees. He abandons it without a last sip, or even a word of farewell. He leaves the paper cup of coffee and returns to his world, trusting that another one will be waiting for him in another kiosk tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and the day after that.
Sixteen years ago, my mother found my father behind the shed on a Saturday morning in June. “Get up off the ground in your good shirt,” she told him, before she understood he was dead. “He looked like he was sleeping,” she told us. “The gun glinted in the grass.”
Seven years after my father’s suicide, I opened the envelope containing police photographs of the scene. He did not look like he was sleeping. Limbs: a swastika. Angles inhuman. Violence and velocity rendered in two hundred pounds of a six-foot man. The gun glinted in the grass—she was right about that.
We can’t believe that we’re on the brink of publishing our FIFTEENTH Issue! If you couldn’t make it to our Launch Party, you can still mingle with our Issue 15 contributors in this month’s Friday Reads. When you’re done reading, be sure to purchase your copy of Issue 15 here!
Join us in celebrating Issue 15 of The Common! The evening will feature readings from Liz Arnold, Emma Copley Eisenberg, and translator Lissie Jaquette, followed by a discussion with the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker. This event is free and open to the public.
We awoke one morning to news of a death. The person we had lost was the one we used to call the Village Idiot—that buffoon who used to make us laugh and cry at the same time, that leaping, dancing ball of energy who would hurl himself around, wild with enthusiasm, stomping on our toes and crashing into us as he went gesticulating by.