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Meg Kearney

Meg Kearney

Meg Kearney is author of Home by Now, winner of the 2010 PEN New England LL Winship Award; An Unkindness of Ravens; two young adult novels-in-verse: The Secret of Me and The Girl in the Mirror; and the picture book, Trouper, selected as one of the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People of 2014 and one of the season's best picture books by the International Reading Association and the Christian Science Monitor.
"Future Ship" is a poem that's long haunted me, and does so now even more that Kurt is gone, climbed aboard that ship himself. This is one of Kurt's long-lined poems, an aspect of craft that seemed to first appear in the book that shares this poem's title, but marked many of his poems from that point on. He handles the long line as a master of rhythm and breath; it controls this poem's pacing, which rolls along on its own invisible sea. Why is it that I never realized until recently how much Kurt wrote about death? (Perhaps he was right in "What Poems Say": "death is coming.") Typical of Kurt, his vision is clear-eyed, romantic, funny, heart-breaking. We can all "blink" and see our own Jack Harrington, our personal version of Mindy Strawbridge in our minds, waving from the windows of the Future Ship. What I'm finding difficult is that I blink again, and there is Kurt, his hand in mid-air. Does he know how deeply he is missed?

Future Ship

The deeper we move into the future, the more we disappear into the past,
          that ghost ship
manned by family and friends, whole neighborhoods, villages,
          vast cities
or hunks of them like waxen combs broken off and taken in, their human cargo
who inhabit now the body's cells, its nerveways and staterooms, open decks,
a grand ballroom filled with light slipping softly past the farthest capes.

Blink the face of Jack Harrington, lean, moronic, eight years old, leers at me,
          wiry hair,

loud hoarse voice—like someone accustomed to yelling—his flesh already pitted,
          already old,
dressed in bargain basement rags, chicken-breasted torso splayed with ribs.
Nancy Bergen, pale face sown with freckles, green eyes, red hair swept backward
          in a ponytail
blooms in frosty light, as her breath bloomed, once, in the scintillant air of morning.

The way out is the way in, as if the whole project of living were to gather light
          that leaps
off the surface of the world to scorch its image on the soul—
          that cave
we crawl into after millennia, inscribed with all we've ever witnessed,
          all we've known.
Blink again, the solemn face of a teacher hovers over my desk where I labor
          sweating answers
on the thin blue staves of a test book open to a blank page in nineteen fifty nine.

Is it true that we remember everything that ever happened to us—every gesture,
          every act,
each person and the words they spoke, the landscape of a certain country,
          or a state,
how our bodies felt when we were twelve? That summer I fell in love
          and my limbs
glowed. One morning I woke in snow and the world seemed dirty and closed,
          a secret
I might never crack. Is it true the mind is endless, a lifetime lodged forever in its folds?

Someone's weeping in the middle of the night. The light's on. I rouse myself from sleep
          to find my mother
sitting on a chair inside my room. Her sister's dead, lost in a car crash at the other end
          of the country.
The call came in, incomprehensible, late. Go back to sleep, she says, and I do.
          But not before
a woman I hardly know enters my head, lies with me an hour in the dark,          
          becomes part of my life
at the end of hers. I feel her stretch and settle in, bury herself in the dark continent of my brain.

Stand on this cape—it's the last one, the one that juts out into fathomless night.
          Out there
a life passes, smoothly cleaving waves, all its gangways blazing.
          The dead
fill every window, and the not-forgotten throng high decks, immutable, waving their arms.
there's Gary Woodman, still coughing, lungs withered by a childhood disease.
Mandy Strawbridge bares her teeth, skin so luminous and perfect she can never die.