Letter About My Last Night in Carbondale, Illinois to Colin Joseph Campbell

by Mark Brewin

Though we haven’t talked in over a month, you must
know I am moving again—three years crammed into my
hatchback and the bed of my father’s truck—and though he
and my sister have driven out to help, this is no easy task.
Just as a single water glass always seems to shatter, despite
the ginger handling and wrapping, ruining the even set, so too
was my last night in Carbondale settled with something for
which I couldn’t prepare.

Crossing town to donate my writing desk and random
knickknacks, I didn’t realize the thrift store parking lot was glazed
with black ice until I skidded and faced an adjacent parking lot,
a rig’s cargo trailer, and what looked like a homeless man
wintering beneath.

He flailed his cane in my headlights, yelling, and after
I decided it wasn’t because I woke him up, I tiptoed across
the frozen asphalt. He was fine despite his left foot twisted
toward the opposite direction. And when he asked me to feel
if anything was broken, that is when I thought of you and didn’t
think any alternative existed, that there was no other option
but to kneel and cup my hands around his bony, splintered joint.

Do you know what a snapped leg feels like? The best
I can compare it to is that of a twig’s broken end poking
through the rubber skin of a balloon. He quietly grabbed my
hand (which I didn’t notice until he spoke again), and when he
said it had been hours, that he was numb between his ankle
and hip, I didn’t care if you aren’t supposed to move someone,
gripped him under his armpits and dragged him out. This isn’t
the first time I’ve ignored someone’s warnings. All I wanted
was to look him in the eyes because, because when I need to
calm someone, I need to believe there isn’t a problem.

Feel a broken bone, and believe it’s all right. Pack a car,
and believe you haven’t missed something and get on
with the long, tiring drive.

At the same moment I tried to ease Lloyd—the name
of the man, I found out while on the phone with the 911 operator—
I wanted to stop waiting on hold for the medics to arrive, and call
my father and sister who had probably fallen asleep waiting for me
to drop off furniture and pick-up the pizzas we’d ordered. To call
you and ask if you thought he overcompensated for the heavy basket
wire-tied to the back of his ten speed, caused the rear tire to fishtail,
and dropped him on his left knee? I only ask because you seem
to know these types of things. You’ve lifted my car off of a brick
embankment with little less than a cheap jack and door stoppers.

While the sirens chipped away at the windless cold, one EMT
by Lloyd’s shoulders, one—with a lip of chew—by his calves,
I manned the crippled kneecap and we lifted him, screaming,
onto the stretcher. If you asked me in that moment, I couldn’t say
what was left for me to pack when I got back to the apartment,
if I really needed to keep the four plates, four bowls and three glasses
wrapped in newspaper and ready for the trip east.

Please excuse me, I’m forgetting myself, I meant to tell you
what Lloyd made me promise: he was so worried about his bike,
the Tupperware of leftovers, the ream of paper, stuffed animals
and Christmas lights wrapped around the top tube, that he wanted
me to deliver the mess to his house. Between his calls of pain,
came exact directions, the name of someone I was supposed to find
(a “Sean,” but I don’t know if I spelled that right).

Before I knew it, the bike was jammed into my small
Hatchback, and I was in front of his slumping porch, cling-wrap
over the windows, flashing holiday bulbs—his directions were
amazingly perfect—you too wouldn’t have stopped, but fulfilled
Lloyd’s request, like the Patron Saint of Close Calls, Freak Accidents,
and Happenstance. Sean (still, I’m not sure of the spelling) was so
horrified to hear of his friend’s predicament that he pushed past
and waited for me to unlock the passenger door.

Colin, I want to tell you about the fisherman’s hook
on his hat brim. I want to tell you about the small talk we shared on
the short drive to understand what Lloyd had gone through, but it is
impossible. It is beyond language. The pizza is cold and both my
father and sister are asleep at the apartment.

What about me? All I had given away was a few accessories
and some kitchenware, the rest all bundled and stuffed into my car
and the bed of my father’s truck. Yes, there is a virtue in packing light—
jettisoning the rest—but there is also an awareness in what you truly
need that I’m afraid I will never have. Pray for me on this one. There
are still boxes to tape closed at the apartment. Still time to empty them.

What if I hadn’t driven to the thrift store to giveaway
my furniture? And what if Lloyd lay there all night? What if I was too
freaked or tired or hungry to walk across the parking lot to see
what he wanted? And though I had my reservations about the whole
thing, I still couldn’t help, but help.

I don’t know if this is a comment on the world, humanity,
or morality, but maybe you can help me with the idea. This letter
is already too long. You always seem to say things simply. Another
flaw to put on my list. Is a fault nothing more than a motive for our
existence? Our ability to aid, a by-product of our condition? Damn,
I sure do wax poetic—like the bottom seam of a cardboard box
giving out, the contents crashing over the sidewalk—when all I want
is someone to tell me something straight. There. That’s it. I’ve said it all.


Brewin_PhotoMark Jay Brewin Jr. is a graduate of the MFA program of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Southern Poetry Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Hollins Critic, Los Angeles Review, Copper Nickel, The Labletter, Poet Lore, North American Review, Greensboro Review, Cold Mountain Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. They have also placed as finalist in the Guy Owen Poetry Prize, the 2011 Third Coast Poetry Prize and the New Letters Literary Award Contest, won the Yellowwood Poetry Contest at the Yalobusha Review, as well as been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is currently the Poetry Editor for the online publication, Saxifrage Press.

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