On the Litter

 

T

he secretary sits in his car outside Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, its Rosetta window reminiscent of the one inlaid in the gable wall at Otey, his boyhood parish. A drooping melaleuca languishes beneath the window, in the light of the entryway. Men gather to smoke there, in this light, before flicking their butts into the wet street and entering the church to find their spots. The secretary must join them, as he’s joined them a thousand times before—to read aloud bylaws and meeting norms and to ask if anyone has any announcements. Tonight, the grand poobah Max will open the floor to the men’s experiences with a recitation of Kunitz’s poem “The Layers,”

I have walked though many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being,
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray…

To coax himself to give his fellow men his undivided attention, the secretary makes a game of it: He will sit quietly and take notes more copiously than the anonymity of the members’ permits. He will not doodle. He will not daydream. He will quietly write out everyone’s remarks in the first person, parroting each guy’s voice to the best of his ability.

 

Kobe M.

I’ve rarely felt more intimate with my wife than when we went shopping for a couch. I was going to tell her this, but I know it doesn’t match her definition of intimacy. It takes two, you know, to be truly intimate.

 

Phil

When the various ways of getting an erection lowered my blood pressure too much, we tried alternative ways of sex. My wife likes them a lot, but I’m not sure she needs me for it.

 

Alec

Has anyone heard about this male platonic touch method for keeping a marriage interesting? My hugging you is supposed to make things better between Nance and me.

 

Hector

My ex told me she was still grieving after our divorce and I wondered if I was grieving too and just didn’t feel it. Is that possible? Can you grieve without feeling it?

 

Tariq N.

When I pee it dribbles out. I used to have a steady stream. My doctor tells me I have an enlarged prostate.

 

Paul W.

Tell me about my aspirational clutter. I’ve got camping gear, fishing gear, scuba gear, rock-climbing gear, a long board, a short board, wetsuit, a mountain bike, a road bike, a home-brew kit, never been touched, an untouched saxophone, a post-hole digger, a treadmill, a rowing machine, a Serbo-Croatian language course, a half dead bonsai tree, a camera with an endless array of lenses, and stacks of how-to’s and historical novels. My question: should I have a garage sale?

 

Hank

My daughter’s stepfather bought her a Prius. I can’t believe he bought her a Prius. I could never buy her a Prius.

 

Max F reading again from Kunitz

Live in the layers, men, not on the litter. Live in the layers!

 

Stanley Kunitz called his poem “a summing-up poem.” Max enriches the meetings with the summing-up poems of poets of his generation and silently urges praise of his choices. This sounds judgmental. The secretary doesn’t mean to judge. He loves Max. Max checks in with him before he can slip out: “You good?” How can the secretary tell Max his wife’s biopsy has come back and, with it, news of an advanced stage of cancer? How can the secretary explain his wife’s crazy insistence that he find someone new, only to turn around and say, “You’d better not, Brian, if you know what’s good for you”?

“I do,” he tells her.

“You do what?”

“Know what’s good for me.”

“Go see your friends,” she says.

“I want to stay here with you.”

“Go,” she says, “and don’t take it personally.”

“I’m not taking it personally.”

“Then go,” she says. “Tell them what’s happening to me—to us—and take down whatever advice they offer, so as not to forget. Come home afterwards, no drinking, and crawl in bed. Try not to wake me, but yes, please do wake me. You can if you want. I want to see you all the time now. It’s complicated though, isn’t it? In the time we have left, our shared time, I’ll need more alone time than you’re used to. So go to your dumb ole meeting, Brian, and come home quick and, yes, I think I do want to hear: tell me what the men say about us.”