maybe it was just one last story,
evidence was destroyed —
and unbroken thread
nearly 4 billion years old
discern day from night.
oh, the things molecules do.
NOTE: The “COSMOS” poems are a true experiment. They’re iterations of previous “found text” poems I wrote, using Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” as source material. They appear in their original form on my Medium page.
There are few places where the past seems alive and well, where I am confronted with the characteristics of age, items attesting to the inevitability of decay everywhere I turn. But age isn’t a bad thing. It didn’t only mean death, though some days it does. It meant a history. That’s what we heard, my brother and I, as we walked through the backyard, ruling over our tiny kingdom. We passed rusted meter maids with missing doors that had somehow mutated, becoming a mind-boggling hybrid with the earth, all of it dust and rust and malleable material, a handful of silt sliding through our fingers. We passed stacks of hardened rubber tires that had turned shiny, cracked with sun and snow. The pickup truck that came with the property surrounded by voracious summertime weeds that threatened to swallow it. We passed the knotted swinging rope dangling from the tree, so thick it was nearly twice the width of my wrist, and it all sounded the same: a chorus of enticing whispers that beckoned — story, story, story.
Photo taken July 16, 2017 at my family’s farm, Collins, Ohio.
Words and photo by Ashley Bethard.
So, a thing happened, and it’s a thing I’ve had my eye on since I was 18 years old.
When my brother died, it took the Erie County Coroner’s office more than two days to call any of my family members back. We called the police officer who initially reached out to me. We called the police department. We called the coroner several times. Nothing.
We had to physically show up at the office, a 40-minute drive from my parents’ home, to even ask for answers.
The coroner sat with us in the public waiting room — which also happened to be the public waiting room of a local doctor’s office — to discuss the circumstances of my brother’s death. My parents’ discomfort was palpable, and I was shocked that he was relaying such personal details to a newly-grieving family in such a public place.
The office’s willingness to speak with us in that moment was, I assume, due to the fact that my mentor and close friend is the managing editor of the local paper (which is where I got my start in media).
I told my friend about this delay in communication, and while he provided tips and feedback for moving forward, he also seemed surprised that so much time had passed with no contact.
I’m currently in the process of requesting more information from their office, such as a full coroner’s report. I will be keeping track of and publicly sharing my experiences, good and bad, as this moves forward. This includes today:
I called the Erie County Coroner’s office after their out-of-office lunch periods (yep, they’re one of those), and was told that the person I was asking for (a “Chris” listed on the Erie County Coroner’s website) was no longer there. I expressed the reason for my call, which was to request info on the best way to request a full coroner’s report, and asked who, then, would be best to speak with.
“Cathy,” the woman replied, “but she won’t be in until tomorrow. At 8 a.m.”
She was quiet after that, as if waiting for me to hang up. She didn’t offer to take a message for me, as most offices would.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll call back tomorrow.”
We’ll see how it goes.
I mean, this one did. I turned it over and over again, like stones in water, finding things that glimmered and caught the sun. But there never felt like a real sense of cohesion.
I’d also add that it’s one of the more experimental essays I’ve done. So experimental and feeling/sensory-oriented that I considered categorizing it as something else. But the truth is, it’s the truth. It’s real life. So regardless of how uncomfortable I was putting something that was abstract out there, it is what it is.
Here’s an excerpt, and you can read the whole thing on Medium.
I think we were supposed to run away with each other long before this. There was that night on the motorcycle, the loud buzzing engine that cracked through the air heavy with rain threat, as we took the backroads and their curves too fast in a rush to get to the lake, my white fingers pressed into your ribs.
You write to tell me you have not stopped listening since I left and your faith startles me. I cannot handle the music right now. There is too much noise, or too much feeling, or too many words. After the song’s opening seconds I am already switching to the next. There is no irony here, only direct correlation. I am, have become, noncommittal. “I am not the girl you feel in love with,” I hear myself say. I am almost telling the truth.
Read the full essay.
First, an observation: bottomless mimosas are very conducive to dreamlike, hazy, optimistic thoughts. In other words, exactly the kind you should be having on New Year’s Day, as you dream about what the year might have in store for you.
In recent years, reflecting on the year gone by and setting goals for the new one is something that has become somewhat of a soft tradition. With age I’ve become more goal-oriented – a result, perhaps, of the realization that life is short and that one’s future can, in some ways, be charted by will and desire.
Last year, I set a goal to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I made it through 33, which on paper may denote a failure, but in all actuality it made me realize how challenging it was to absorb what I was reading, since I was constantly focused on getting through the current book and getting on to the next one. The verdict? The number of books isn’t really as important as absorbing them, which is going to inform one of my 2015 goals: read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s list of books that every intelligent person on the planet needs to read. There are 8 total, but for my purposes I’m only counting 7 (I’ll be honest: I’ve read enough of the Bible, and sat through enough church/youth group/camps to get the gist). And while 7 is a piddly little number, it’s not the number that’s important. It’s the content.
These books are not lightweights. I see many Google searches and Wiki trolling for background on Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in my future, if only for the sense that a.) I lack a classroom and professor in which to provide context and conversation around these texts, and b.) it’s helpful to get some outside perspective and distill the main thoughts into some Cliff’s Notes. Not a substitute for the real thing, but when we’re talking language over decades and centuries ago, I need all the help I can get. And as I mentioned earlier, I want to absorb these books in a more full way.
In 2014, 27 of the 33 books I read were by women. This was part intentional, part personal interest — a lot of what I’ve read references other seminal and contextual works by women, so I followed my reading fancies where they led me. As a woman, I also frequently note the dearth of female works and writers mentioned in overall “best of” lists, which informed my intent. I learned that I really, really love Chris Kraus and Lorrie Moore (I read Self-Help and Birds of America), I confirmed my love for Roxane Gay’s massive talent, thanks to Bad Feminist and her soul-scathing novel An Untamed State, and I fell into an immediate infatuation with Susan Steinberg’s short stories in Spectacle (I’m convinced that seriously, her work is beyond unique and compelling).
In 2015, my goal is to get out of my comfort zone and read works that I’d never initially pick for myself (The System of the World by Isaac Newton, for example, per deGrasse’s list), as well as works that speak to experiences beyond mine (which I’ll define as white, middle-class female privilege). The cultural climate of our country has reached a crucial moment, starting with the protests in Ferguson. If I want to better understand the world I live in, other perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to are extremely important, which is why Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Hilton Als’ White Girls. Ashley Ford, writer extraordinaire with a day gig at BuzzFeed, put together a fantastic list of 13 Must Reads For The Black Feminist In Training that I’d do well to incorporate, as well.
With that, I wish you all a happy, idea-filled 2015. Let’s push ourselves, okay?