Conjuring the Living

The spin wasn’t that scary, familiar even,
that strange moment sliding when the driver
becomes a passenger and the elements and whatever
angels came with you that day are in charge.
Nor did the headlights of the truck frighten me,
that had moments before been on our tail
as we contemplated barbecued chicken for dinner,
now shining towards us, clearly not stopping.
In fact, there was no time to feel anything,
only the instinct of raising my arm
to shield my face, body bracing for impact.

It was the truck driver who was shaky

with fear and shock when he peered in
the fogged windows of my friend’s
smashed-up Echo, unsure what he would find.
Then the long exchange of insurance information,
Officer Ricko’s green neon coat we took turns
wearing, chilled, teeth chattering,
standing out in the snow, waiting
for the next thing–tow-trucks, our side
of the story, hugging the edge of the road
in case oncoming traffic repeated
our scenario, until finally we slid into
the backseat of the patrol car to stay warm,
where I watched through bars the flurry.

Next there was an hour or two

at Charlemont’s gas station store,
conveniently located just west on Route 2,
hot coffee and granola bars, landline calls
to mothers, new lovers, the small parade of locals
circulating in and out to buy provisions
against the unexpected storm, lucky numbers
cataloged for four lottery tickets, our promise
to Jill, the cashier, that we’d pay her rent
for a year if we won, and the shuffling run up
the road to Melody’s B&B, peanut butter
and jelly for dinner, collapsing on the bed,
clothes off quick, trying to warm, naming
what we weren’t, sleeping off the dance with death
until morning sunlight and a ride with Jenny
and her dog Djuna to collect what remained
inside the totaled car, cold clouds drifting
across a colder blue sky above a hill the color
of roasted beets and carrots, the drive through
Hatfield, trees split down the middle
as if by axes, sap still running, my friend
reaching around from the passenger seat
to touch my ankle, asking if I was okay.
I cleared my throat and gave a quiet nod.

It wasn’t until later, after clearing my own

windshield of heavy snow, finally wearing a coat
and warm socks, that I cried, not because
we could have died but because we lived and
I had no one to touch me that way. Dead batteries,
fried eggs and toast, my parents’ house cold,
my mother’s hands on my aching neck
under a bundle of blankets, scalding Turkish tea,
melted chocolate ice-cream from the warming freezer,
then heading north alone, all the Massachusetts
gas stations closed, stopping for wifi and to fill
my tank after crossing into Vermont, tears
not stopping, Coldplay on repeat, this drive
I’ve done in every season–white-outs and
flash floods, hailstorms, tornado warnings–
the promise of a hot bath another hundred miles
to go.

They say reviewing such experiences recreates

trauma, all the what-if’s and could have been’s,
the impulse to link related events:
seventeen, climbing out of the sunroof
after flipping my father’s car on an L.A. freeway,
my mother’s hot flash on a clear April morning–
Randolph, guardrail, a nurse named Nancy,
twenty-four stitches on her scalp–
or the time I slid off 89 in Grandpa Max’s Camry,
bald Florida tires useless in the snow
on a late Sunday night long stretch alone
returning from Providence, or the random block
of ice that took off my shiny red fender in Montreal
last December… ribs, spleen, skulls still intact.
If this accident had to happen, it couldn’t
have gone better, really, so there’s that.

And now I sit up in bed, Smudge the cat

rollicking around the room, a hat on my head,
gentle neck rolls and propped-up pillows,
work email, heat and light and coffee at hand,
and there’s nothing catastrophic about
surviving to tell the tale, nor is there shame
in longing and conjuring the living, imagining
a future or naming the dead, who surely pass
the popcorn and the tissues, sometimes laughing
riotously as they remember contending
with the changing seasons.

Surely they watch us

tenderly. Surely they cheer for our every breath.

7 thoughts on “Conjuring the Living

  1. gailnhb says:

    Yes, Maya, thank you for telling your tale so marvelously, so tenderly, with such grace and simplicity. I also rejoice that you are well and hope with you that you will soon have someone to reach over, touch you, and make sure you are well – not only in the car, but also in your home, in your bed, and in all the other areas of your life as well.

    Let the tears flow whenever they want to come. Gratitude, joy, fear, sorrow, loneliness, peace – they will all mingle with your tears. Feel every bit of it – as I know you will.

    I’m thinking about you, my friend.


  2. hollybackgirl says:

    love you very much. so much gratitude for you, after all this time and distance. and now we share coldplay as well. giant hug.


  3. julie (Kavanaugh) Peisel says:

    I cried, not because
    we could have died but because we lived and
    I had no one to touch me that way.

    Again I cry Jena.

    I am so glad and thankful you are okay.


  4. Simone says:

    So beautifully, hauntingly written, my breath caught in my throat, I sit alone here in a Los Angeles rainstorm and thank the universe that you are well. Accidents of any kind are often jolts to the deeply submerged life we live, sunk down beneath the layers of daily chores and half seen days, jerking us out of our slumbering haze and reminding us of the tenuous nature of this life. Be well, and keep breathing through it. Love will find a way to you.



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