H. E. Fisher
Letter to My Friend Stuck at the Top of a Ferris Wheel
—for Charis Conn thirty years after the publication of her story “Octopus” in Harper’s
You called to reassure me that Raymond Carver was okay, how he said his last years were “gravy” and read me his poem in the New Yorker. It wasn’t the last time we spoke, but it’s what I call up easy, like a crayon circle that means “sun” or “face.” I think of you in my kitchen hunched over the small butcher block cart tearing lettuce with your hands to make salad; the times you stood in a room, any room, a cigarette perched in the vertex of its peace sign, dangling like a cliffhanger; or the day I visited your lower Broadway office, a kind of home you found, different from the one in your story about your brother who wept while the neighborhood children ran wild in your yard. I picture the story’s house rundown, white clapboard stripped to gray or make it so in the way I pearl the wool of your black cardigan between index finger and thumb, rubbing imperfection into the weave: I make pills of you—small and gathered and clung to. Your brother in the story, like mine, was in need of constant care. You and I learned vigilance at the age we practiced tying shoelaces, buttoning sweaters. To take care, we said of the phrase, was an act of stealing—from ourselves. You had a rose-colored cardigan, too, and one that was deep red like velvet stanchions, not pilled, pulled, around you, over a black scoop neck tee worn with black slacks, flats, your black hair a bob with self-shorn bangs, strands of white coming in, your dark eyes’ exotropia poised in opposite directions, always fishing for facts you uncovered for your job at the magazine, every fact a new story. Oh, how you loved a good story. We were both curious. Curiosity, like a battery, recharging negatives and positives. Here’s a fact: It is possible to love someone a little. A kind of half-truth. That is how I love my brother, mother, father. And I think how you loved me. I heard from a mutual friend you died in a hospital after a long illness like being stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel, making whatever sounds you needed, sky-close. I hope your last years were gravy, and wonder if you worried who would take care of your brother once you were gone. Mine hangs on: wheelchair, twenty-seven meds, and aides who do the worry for me. I often think of how you and I would end our banter quoting our favorite Carver line, “In this manner, the issue was decided” after his fictional couple pull their baby apart—and talked about how our own mothers and fathers split us in two: saving one half for themselves, the other for our siblings. Here’s another fact: One day, before you got sick, you stopped calling or returning my calls. I am curious why. Which makes it almost okay.
H. E. Fisher’s poetry and prose poems appear or are forthcoming in Canary, The Hopper, Indianapolis Review, Miracle Monocle, SWWIM, Pithead Chapel, among other publications and anthologies. H.E. is the editor of (Re) An Ideas Journal.
Photo by antony