Joe Kittling owns the corner store.
Almost a friend, now nearly retired,
I’d see him on State Street back in the day,
close-cropped, skeptical head, too-
tight jeans, How are you, he’d say,
How’ve you been?
We’d stand a minute,
walk a bit, and, inevitably,
petitioning, wistful, Real life,
he’d say, or, Real life,
and there’d be a kind of inside tipping forward,
a sort of over-eager inner yearning for
something essential: a texture
or breadth and heft he couldn’t name:
love, god, friends, work, whatever.
It’s just nothing reached him, he’d say,
nothing to bring him to that
easy and attentive right rhythm he
imagined happiness to be.
A bell dings over the door and he waves.
We discuss weather and pets,
and, suddenly serious, testing the air,
But what’s the world up to? he asks.
And of a midweek in mid-August—
amidst a soft, constant clatter of streetcar
and rattling cab—It’s like every year I feel farther
from everything, you know what I’m saying?
I see where I lived and I see where
I work or I spot a school or a ball field
or farm and there’s this lingering urgency.
Even now, he says,
the last light in the trees,
a few cars headed home, there’s nothing the same
and the world seems wary and strange.
You notice that?
I’d see him on State Street back in the day.
Real life, he’d say—
how’s this work?
and, What do you do?
Then, to watch the shoppers
eddy by, the joggers, the buskers, the couples and cops,
we’d stop for coffee, and he’d seem, if not happy
exactly, then at least relieved.
If alone and unique and unlikely, he too
was only trying to remember, or trying
to figure and forget, and scenting
a wider world, looked on.
Mark Kraushaar is the author of two poetry collections: Falling Brick Kills Local Man (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), winner of the Felix Pollak Prize, and The Uncertainty Principle (Waywiser Press, 2012), which won the Anthony Hecht Prize. His poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Yale Review, AGNI, The Antioch Review, Poetry Daily, and Ted Kooser’s column American Life in Poetry. (updated 10/2018)