I thought of my soul as something like a scent, like an air of kindliness. That my selfish heart would grow enormous in battle. I thought I could help the troubled because I was troubled. I wanted my humility to be large, to float like a balloon above the parade I was in.
Mark Kraushaar has worked as a pipe welder, wig salesman, English teacher, flute instructor, and registered nurse. He has new work forthcoming from Alaska Review, Ploughshares, and The Hudson Review, and his full-length collection, Falling Brick Kills Local Man, published by the University of Wisconsin Press, won the 2009 Felix Pollak Prize.
La Vie Ordinaire
Monsieur LeBrun est un ingénieur chimiste:
on page 8 of our ninth grade French One text
Mr. Brown was just leaving for work
and behind him, always, always, there was Madame
in her pretty print dress and beside her the waving twins
Marcel and Marie—Au revoir, Papa!
I’ll guess the rest:
next he drives to Toulouse or Roubaix
and there’s a big meeting on polymers, or pyrite,
heat flux, or octanes, and after his lunch
he walks to the lab with his good pal François.
One man pours a beaker of blue fluid into a flask
while the other graphs a special equation
or holds a test tube in the light.
Later the two men sigh and say goodnight
and Monsieur LeBrun climbs into his yellow Renault,
takes rue des Gallois to rue Saint-Michel and arrives
back home where with six kisses given, six received
the evening begins.
In fact, each evening starts with those same dozen kisses
for another decade at the end of which on a similar night
he opens his paper, sips his drink, eats, and sits
staring at a pink- and avocado-colored plate
which like a little TV he can neither focus on nor turn from. C’est vrai, says Madame.
I guess we want to make sense, she says, except,
here’s this whole improbable, bright scene before us,
and we’re peevish and stuck, and then one day
you’re rinsing a cup and it’s like the heart
takes off for Bermuda and you rise right out of your shoes
and think how easy it is, how like a trick of the mind
to simply be happy, and as the Earth turns
into a map there comes a moment it feels
like forgiveness and thanks and when
you want to dive you dive—c’est vrai!—
and recover soaring upwards
by thinking it so. I’ve met someone new, she says,
She’s in the first booth left of the planters.
She’s been waiting an hour now.
She’s been waiting at the Watertown Family Buffet
with her little girl who’s dreamed up
some kind of a costume:
giant glasses, backwards cap, taffeta gown
which is clearly for him, for Al who’s
just now arriving, finally, and now
he’s seen them, and now
he’s walking over, and now
he’s standing there, standing there,
husband and father, or boyfriend and father,
or boyfriend and father figure, except he’s way too late,
he’s too late times two and the party’s over
thank-you, and, no, they’re not having,
not the grin, not the story, not the hug.
The woman gets up, and then, face baggy with patience,
she nods to the girl who scoots out too,
and they exit together.
So over the chips and spilt dip,
over the drained Pepsi and the big white cake
with “Al” in caps and quotes
he watches them go,
looks out at the parking lot,
opens his book.
Here’s the waitress with her pad and pen.
And what in hell is he reading?