In Cather’s story, “Paul’s Case,”
after the coach rides, the baths,
the tortoise shell brushes, mirrors,
satin sheets, chandeliers,
plush carpets and ornate tables,
after the champagne and caviar feast,
Paul takes his baggage of flesh
draped in soft clothes
onto a final coach
into final woods, and down to the tracks,
and hurls himself into the path
of a locomotive,
choosing this form of death over poison,
pistol, or rope. It seems
he wants nothing to remain of Paul,
wants Paul himself obliterated,
wiped clean from earth’s map,
no corpse, no likeness for mourners
to view and close the lid on,
and lower into an earthen hole.
Now, a hundred years after Cather’s Paul,
a father named Paul bids his family
not knowing it’s his final goodbye.
A farewell in the dark: he leans
to kiss his wife’s cheek,
and then to the room of his sleeping son,
also Paul (an only child of an only child),
and leans and kisses his son’s brow
and, with light approaching from the east,
walks out his gate and leaves
his familiar street, not knowing
the finalities of these minutes
of September 2001, and to others
“on floor” when the plane crashes
through, and the sky falls
and turns into a celestial inferno.
Nothing left of September Paul
and those on his floor, nothing left
of the floor, or the shoes
he was wearing, or his teeth,
his wallet, nothing left there.
How could he have so much, one moment,
and then not even his teeth, his hair,
his family. How different his case
from that of Cather’s brooding protagonist.
Peter Mladinic’s poems have recently appeared in Neologism, the Mark, the Magnolia Review, Ariel Chart, Bluepepper, and other online journals. He lives, with six dogs, in Hobbs, New Mexico. 9/11 originally appeared in Academy of the Heart and Mind.
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