Given More Time
Poems by Robert Cording

Notes for a Recovery | Locomotive
Kayaking on Mother’s Day | Painted Turtle

Notes for a Recovery

In the shade of a live oak, I’m reading 
A book about the history of the heart.

Mine stopped a week ago. If I had died,
And lived in ancient Egypt, 

All my organs would have been removed
During mummification save my heart,  

Needed to kick start another life somewhere.  
I’m happy to be here, attracted by the top

Of a palm tree that reminds me of the cowlick
In my brother’s hair my mother tried to comb flat.

Cowlick. From a cow licking its calf’s hair 
Into a spiral. 
                            I helped deliver a calf once 

In Ireland. Our neighbor woke me 
In the middle of the night for help. He tied a rope 

Around the calf’s feet and pulled while I held open 
The leathery vulva. The cow lowed in pain.  

Then the calf, out and upright, licked by its mother.
And that inevitable moment when the farmer 

Had to take the calf from its mother, 
Whose long unbearable moan lasted for minutes.

When my middle son died, my body and mouth
Made sounds I had never heard before.

I was writing about him when my heart stopped.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, I read, is the name 

For broken heart syndrome.  
                                                            I close the book, 
And watch a sky full of puffy clouds back up 

Like traffic in another blue Florida sky.
I sit outside to get away from the news, 

Where George Floyd dies over and over. 
And here I am, given more time. 

The late May light pours down. The leaves
In the live oak shiver with light. 

Two yellow-rumped warblers moon me,
The bright suns under their tails 

Announcing their name all too easily
On this day unchanged by how I might render it,

Or like it to be, life taken away, given back, 


. . . can an outsider comprehend that one experiences a story
in oneself from its beginning from the distant point to the
approaching locomotive of steal, coal and steam, and even now
does not abandon it but wants to be chased by it . . .

                                                                                      from Kafka’s diary
Yes, I know that locomotive,
that excess of accelerating emotion

rushing at me, the fuel not coal
and steam, but always the fire

(rarely does the story start where we want)
my son built the night he died five years ago,

the embers left in the metal firepit—
the same style he gave my wife and me

and we’ve never used.  I’ve been chased
by memories so exacting, I can feel

the grayish half-light of early morning,
and how those embers break

into fiery red when a breeze blew.

I do and I don’t want to go inside again
(rarely does the story end where we wish)

where my son’s body lay dead
on his living room floor, and I do and

I don’t want to write about him any more
or find words for my grief, 

and yet the locomotive steams at me
and I have no way to tamp down its fire,

or outrun its approach.

Sometimes I think the only way to love
enough is to remain on the rails,

to be hit full on by the oncoming locomotive.

And sometimes I think the way to love
is to let the story remain unfinished,

to step aside and wave to those on the train,
their faces both particular and fleeting,

as they move from one place to the other
only a swirl of dust, like a murmuration

of starlings twisting and rising,
after the train passes out of sight.

Kayaking on Mother’s Day

The worst day of the year,
my wife says, waking.
An iron-hot day of sun, 
little or no wind. We head for
the water, paddle the mangrove
backwaters to the Gulf, 
empty now save for a few locals.
We settle on a beach, sit
in chairs we’d tied to the kayaks,
and watch the dazzling light 
turn the Gulf from green 
to dark blue to Bermuda blue. 
Three ospreys sit with us, 
though the squawks they make 
suggest they are not happy 
with our being here.
We read, swim, eat, and then
do the same three things over
again.  And again. The ospreys
have flown off. A ninety-foot yacht
crosses the water. We say
it must be an oligarch, and look 
for the Coast Guard to arrive
to seize the ill-got property. 
But all we can see is the ant-like
crew moving from one task 
to another. We wish things 
were different. There’s nothing 
we can do about the oligarch. 
There’s nothing we can do 
about our dead son.  
A black-tipped shark swims
where we just left the water
with an evolutionary elegance.
The colors of the Gulf are still
changing.  A flotilla of cumulus
moves above the yacht, the sun 
sliding now towards the Gulf.
Time to paddle home, the tide
running in the direction 
we need to go, a sort of gift
to make the day’s end easier.

Painted Turtle

As it happens, a decent day—
blue sky, a fresh breeze—goes bad.
Mid-cycle, the washing machine
simply stops. Of course, there’s
a week’s laundry piled up
on the floor. But the motor’s kaputt,
my German grandfather would say.
And now, my wife’s found a leak
under the bathroom sink, a gasket
also kaputt, between the faucet
and the water line. We have the money
for a plumber and can afford
to replace the old broken washer.  
But as we look at new machines on-line,
I start feeling bad for having options
as though we deserve our dripping
sink line and no-go washing machine.
Still hours till lunch, I think of those
who must use the local laundromat,
endure leaky pipes, feed their families.

I’m looking for something, anything
to take my mind in a different direction—
I’m like a child expecting some adult 
to supply an alternative, some 
sleight-of-hand to get me out from under 
my maddening preoccupations.
And then my wife suggests I go outside,
where the day that began well is
still there. I stand alongside the pond
studying a near vertical, cliff-like rock 
when a painted turtle climbs up
out of the pond. The rock is so steep,
it feels like the turtle should slide 
straight back into the water,
but it’s already sunning itself 
in this comically improbable position. 
I watch its wet shell lightening 
as if I’ve become part of that old joke 
about watching paint dry, and I laugh 
at myself, the sun declaring the day 
half done, and not half bad.

Robert Cording’s most recent book is In the Unwalled City (2022). New poems of his can be found in The Common, Southern Review, Hampden-Sydney Review, Image, Hudson Review, and New Ohio Review.

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