Over the Edge (Homage to William Stafford)
By: Alison Jennings
Traveling through the dark dawn hours, we were ardent,
young, and carefree, careering out of town in a beat-up
step van, free for the moment of the city’s noisy hustle.
Though not well-matched – he cynical, I still optimistic,
the dogs helped bind us; his red setter and my energetic
mongrel echoing our pairing, happily mountain-bound.
Turning a city corner, Michael braked abruptly curbside
at a weirdly stiffened cat, victim of hit-and-run humanity.
Now this tale gets cautionary, the awful instant in an affair
when lust recedes, revealing dreary truths about a lover –
I recalled combing my childhood neighborhood for such
carrion, broken birds or rodents gone from life, solemnly
interred within my yard, honored by handmade crosses.
Bury it, I cried out, but hesitated, as Michael balanced,
on his unswerving scale of convenience, vital calculations:
a funeral for this unknown cat delays us from a daylight
arrival at the campsite, where breakfast, friends await.
I could hear the dogs listening. Michael, not thinking for us
all, pushed the corpse over the edge of a nearby dumpster,
and continued driving toward his version of a world where
dead things do not trouble you, or prefigure your demise.
Alison Jennings is retired from teaching and accounting; throughout her life, she has composed over 400 poems, and recently published three of them, in print journals and online. She lives in Seattle, where she writes poetry whenever she has time. “I have long admired William Stafford’s poetry, its clean lines and compassionate perspective. His classic poem “Traveling Through the Dark” is a special favorite. Recently, I recalled an oddly parallel incident from the past, concerning a former boyfriend and an unpleasant discovery of a cat corpse, on our way to a camping get-together in the nearby mountains. Realizing the similarities, I set out to construct a poem that riffed off of Stafford’s poem, focusing on the central theme of humanity’s unintended consequences toward nature, and our inability or unwillingness to accept these and then act in a responsible manner. As the poem title indicates, I intended my poem to be an homage to this consummate poet, a show of admiration and respect, especially for this superb poem, which makes you think about your actions, as they affect the world. In this particular case, my boyfriend’s behavior led to our breakup a few months later.”