To My Cousin Josh with Nothing

I didn’t look under the hood the way you would have.

An old Ford hardtop wedged between two trees 

in a cornfield as if it was parked there before 

the trees took root. The backdoor jimmied open. 

The steering wheel in place, but the pedals gone. 

I was walking a shortcut to the hospital 

because you were dying again. You’d been dying 

for so long it was hard to say from what. 

Ten years ago it was liquor, which led to diabetes. 

Now add cancer. Now pneumonia. The first drops 

of rain nickel-and-dimed the windshield but lacked 

the body to run the glass. They sat like solo climbers 

bivouacked at night on a bald granite face.

I stretched out on what was left of the backseat, 

the springs squealing at the pressure points 

as if to complain of the various weights of me. 

Meanwhile you were adding up to less and less. 

Forget about muscle––your skin waxed down 

to a windowpane, your limbs thickest at the joints. 

And as I lay in that totaled car waiting out the storm, 

all I could think about was how you waterskied 

at the family cabin years ago, how you slalomed 

with a natural’s ease, held the towrope one-handed, 

carved walls outside the wake, threw eight-foot sprays. 

And after a few days in the emergency wing 

getting half your liver removed, followed by 

that short stint in rehab, I remember the last time 

you tried––the same old life vest so oversized 

you had to switch it for a kid’s one. The easy 

bruises on your shins. The towrope assuming 

from your hands like a loon before you could lift 

above the wake. What happened to that athlete? 

That engineer? What slipped from your hands

and skidded across the lake and sank? I couldn’t sleep. 

The wind picked up. Raindrops veined into each other 

and pooled, sluicing down in chutes to the hood. 

And honestly Josh, I wish I could say the surgery 

failed, or the cancer spread, or the pneumonia found 

a foothold. I wish I could tell you I never made it 

to the hospital to see you. That in the end it rained all night 

and bad luck struck one or the other of the trees 

I was under. I wish I could believe the reasons 

the preacher gave at the funeral, or the mumbles 

of our mothers under the motor-drone on the drive home. 

But the truth is, you lived on for years. Thinned 

your six-foot-four frame to ninety-five pounds 

fully dressed and wet. You didn’t lose a fight. 

Nothing was after you. You moved up to the family cabin 

to avoid paying rent, smoked Camels 

with the curtains drawn and the television on, 

though you didn’t watch it, and one day you were gone.

Reprinted from The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee. Copyright (c) 2019 by Anders Carlson-Wee. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Anders Carlson-Wee

Anders Carlson-Wee is the author of THE LOW PASSIONS (W.W. Norton, 2019), a New York Public Library Book Group Selection, and DYNAMITE (Bull City Press, 2015), winner of the Frost Place Chapbook Prize. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, BuzzFeed, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Sun, New England Review, The Southern Review, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and many other publications. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writers, Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, he is the winner of the 2017 Poetry International Prize. His work has been translated into Chinese. Anders holds an MFA from Vanderbilt University and is represented by Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents.

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