In the photo on Facebook, Janine’s dead mom
is wearing a t-shirt that says jeans! jeans! jeans!
Her mom has been dead for eleven years,
two years longer than I have known Janine.
We tend to horrify polite company
with our banter, her saying my dead mom
and me saying, Oh, is your mom dead?
I had no idea! You never bring it up!
and laughing too loud in our northern
accents. This is how we show our love—
joking about Janine’s mom being dead,
which is of course the worst thing
that has ever happened to her. In life
it helps to have people who goes through shit
first, someone to answer your questions.
Once, I asked my friend how I’d know
if someone was going to kiss me, and she said
Oh, you’ll know. Then at prom, ugh,
a Dave Matthews song came on, double ugh,
and I saw my date’s face melt, not in a cute
Hallmark way, but like it had been microwaved
for a couple seconds too long. Oh. I knew.
Or when I was seventeen and made a left turn
and saw the other car coming, too late.
I was failing physics that term, but I finally
understood trajectory. One must prepare.
Study the books even if they’re for dummies.
I wrap myself in the facts, like research
is some magical science cloak that can protect
me from all my feelings. Like reading
about the thing could suck out the sting.
Still, I keep manuals in the glovebox, read
Consumer Reports and Wikipedia, memorize
paella recipes and Latin plant names. As if
information and wisdom are the same thing.
As if anything works that way.
I know that I’m just trying to cram for the deeply
uncrammable tests of life: death, divorce,
if I’ll regret not having kids. That spring,
I joked a lot about the dog’s frequent seizures:
so annoying, we’ll have to put him to sleep, ha ha ha.
I said this staring through the skylight at an oak.
My therapist said, Look at that brain of yours,
always trying to prepare you for the thing
it knows will hurt like hell. That shut
me up, ha ha ha. See how I turned this poem
about my friend’s dead mom and her grief
into a story about me, how I’m studying
and still failing every day to be okay.
How I lost the manual, or never had one.
Things devastate me and trees are no help.
I’m trying to learn that this is what it is.
We sit in camp chairs in Janine’s driveway,
swatting gnats and watching her boys run around.
She says, I wish my mom were alive to meet them.
I reach for her hand. I say, Jeans! Jeans! Jeans!
CHRISTINA OLSON is the author of Terminal Human Velocity (Stillhouse Press, 2017). Her chapbook The Last Mastodon won the Rattle 2019 Chapbook Contest. Other work appears in The Atlantic, The Normal School, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Best Creative Nonfiction. She is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University and tweets about coneys and mastodons as @olsonquest.