Criminal

As this incredibly dysfunctional and deadly year nears its end, I’ll close 2020’s posts on a personal note: it was a tough year for writing, at least for me.

Many wonderful novels, stories, poems and non-fiction works were published this year, to be sure. Yet I know I’m not alone in feeling the effects of distraction and isolation on my writing. When every day is “Blursday,” it’s tough to focus. Not to make excuses—one must try, and I did. I published a grand total of one poem and one story this year. (Actually, the story won’t appear in Gargoyle until next summer.)

So, not a productive year. I can’t blame it all on the pandemic. Part of the responsibility is mine—I should have found more and better, more consistent, ways to focus, and I didn’t. Part of the responsibility lies with a fundamentally flawed literary marketplace, especially the minor leagues of literary magazines and chapbooks. There are myriad problems here which will likely be the subject of a future post.

The one poem I published, “Criminal,” appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Poetry Quarterly. I’ll reproduce it below, since its subject matter and especially its title seem relevant to the horrific year we’ve just experienced.

CRIMINAL

I know it was a crime
at least as cold as
the fluorescent light that
bore down on my father’s deathbed.

But I still can’t grasp the
betrayal, or the indifference
that enabled it. No
conscious thought was involved.

Dad had been declining for a year,
dropping faster toward the end,
life’s last, careless insult
a needless broken hip.

It was the fall that did me in, he
told me when I flew out to
see him in San Jose.
When I first arrived his head was thrown back

and his mouth gaped. It was awkward.
He was propped up in the hospital
bed, and later that
day I spooned out soup.

He slurped happily, as though life
hadn’t changed all that much.
But then he knew again
it had—his time was nearly gone.

You’ll stay with me? he asked, eyebrows raised.
I can’t, Dad, I told him.
I have to get back.

He died the next evening,
after I’d returned home.
Distance helped blunt the news.

—Thomas Pletcher

Here’s hoping for a better new year.

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