about the author

Robert Wrigley is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Idaho. His most recent book is Box (Penguin, 2017). He lives in the woods near Moscow, Idaho, with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes.

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Two Poems 

Robert Wrigley


A putty-knife from the toolbox,
water from the creek,
and a filthy sweat-stained T-shirt were all
that was needed to scrape and wipe
the mess from the windshield,
smack in the middle of the driver’s
line of sight. The thing was—
the thing the mess was—was
a unrolled condom and therefore
possibly a used one, melted
in several morning suns but even molten
a recognizable thing. The car had been
at the trailhead for six days. There
was a fire pit, a picnic table, thousands of acres
of condom disposal space. And I
had a four-hour drive home,
after an eight-mile hike under a heavy pack
and four nights of sleeping on the ground,
but first the unfortunate scraping and wiping,
then at last a barely cool beer
from the ice chest in the trunk.
I took a seat at the picnic table,
where I noticed the freshly carved heart,
“Amelia & Dale” inside. Also six
cigarette butts in the dirt underneath,
Camels all, three with red lipstick marks.
I have always liked the name Amelia
and up until that moment had been
ambivalent about Dale,
whose guilt beyond this circumstantial evidence
I could not be certain of. Nevertheless,
I confess I also could not help imagining both
of them there, and Dale, in sun-dappled
afterglow slipping off his sheath
and depositing it on my windshield,
to the horror, I hoped, of Amelia.
Except I really hoped she did not see
what he did with it at all, not watching,
looking at trees, listening to birds,
assuming he’d just flung it into the brush
like any brutish lout would,
while she sat at the picnic table,
lighting the first of three cigarettes,
and imagining, with Dale, of all men,
a long and romantic and happy future.


Two-point-five CCs every six hours
dribbled from a needleless syringe
into the corner of his mouth,
alongside the worn old molars.
My job was to set an alarm,
wake my mother in the twin bed
next to his, from which she would rise
and by kitchen glow load
with hardly a swallow
the plastic calibrated syringe.
Then she’d hand it to me,
and I dribbled in the morphine
by the light from the hallway.
It was the garish color of a Vegas casino
cocktail waitress’s babydoll,
an iridescent shimmering lime.
It looked like it must have been
elaborately sugared, but always,
as it flowed minutely
around his mouth, he grimaced.
That was why I tried a drop myself.
By then there would be
only five more doses,
less than three teaspoons
half a teaspoon at a time,
for the pain that comes with dying.
In truth I wanted to try
an entire plunger’s worth,
but there, beside my mother
(who would never have thought
to taste it herself),
I opted for the single drop,
and it was bitter and odious,
but I told her the morphine
tasted like pistachio ice cream.

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