365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


The Workers' Toast

We are workers
For an insurance company
Sitting in a bar
Toasting our successes:
To Cynthia's Mercedes,
To Julie's house on the lake,
To husbands, children,
Our same faces
All day all week always.

(Glasses aloft and a pause,
Barbara asking her question)

If you were free
That is,
If you could do anything,

I would lay down my crossword puzzle,
I say.
I would renounce insurance.
I would deny God
And embrace Great Chaos.
I would take off in a run
To see every thing on earth,
Every clod of dirt
Every drop of water
Every tree

And every face,
Every face of every mortal
Bound in life
The same as mine
In the same universe
On the same planet
And in the same moment
Looking into my eyes.

Bill Lawson, April 9, 1993

He was careful to choose an unimportant day,
A Thursday of no consequence.
There would be no ruined holidays.
He bathed in the morning
And cleaned house in the afternoon.
His mother would not labor that day.
He filed his taxes early
And left his will on the coffee table
Designating every piece to someone.
There would be no fights over things.
He left an explanation of nine pages
Exonerating everyone he knew.
He fed his horses and his beagles
And watered his roses and lilies.
He did the chores
They would forget
As they found him,
As they lifted his body
In their arms,
As they buried him,
And as they sat in darkened rooms
Holding hands
And repeating the words:
"I do not blame anyone."

The Clothes of the Dead

I love the clothes of the dead.
They hang pressed,
Waiting for an occasion.

The cape in the wardrobe
Belonged to my great-grandmother.
Her husband gave it to her
For her fortieth birthday.
He brought it home
In a box wrapped in pink ribbons.
The cape was too large for her,
But she wore it anyway
Because she loved him.
I wear it to remember.

I want my coat
Hung in a closet
And passed to generations.
A mother tells a daughter:
"Her name was Margaret;
She died in 2010,
And this is what she wore.
Wrap it around your shoulders,
And you're almost her."

Taking You Out of the World

I cancelled your insurance
And named myself as "widow"
For the first time.
I have chosen your tombstone
And notified Southern Bell.
I have yet to call the mortgage company,
But soon your name will not be
On the bills.
I am taking you out of life,
Removing you from everything
Day to day.
You will only appear
On death certificates
And old photographs.
Already I am conversational,
"He was he was he was..."
I am emptying adjectives.
I say I am taking you
Out of the world;
I say I am placing you
With all the others dead
A year or ten thousand years.
It does not matter.
You are with Napoleon
And your grandmother.

I say it is me.
But I only follow Death
In the wake of its great black cloak
Like a bent elfin
Aide-de-campe recruited
To sweep up eyeglasses and shoes
With a whisk broom.

Margaret Heinlein, mother of a daughter named Charlotte and a native of Union, has been employed as a technical writer at Colonial Life for the past 11 years. Her poem "Taking You Out of the World," printed here, won first place in the recent poetry competition sponsored by The Happy Bookseller in Columbia. Although she has been writing poetry since she was a teenager, her work has never before been published.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 7/26/97