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Sharon in middle school floated as a cloud,
some days a fragrance like ferns unfurling, 
others a wincing waft like bad hygiene.
I sure as hell wouldn’t ask. Others would.
“Sorry,” she’d say, her voice deep for a girl, 
her eyes a flash of anger. No excuse, 
no explanation. Kept to herself. 

A pear-shaped body, a gorgeous smile. One day 
in the library the warble of a thrush startled me—
Sharon, her laughter over a book. 
She had a boyfriend who was older, prep school.

Rode my Raleigh 3-speed the miles to her house. 
From the wide street I stared at sunny windows, 
white curtains until I felt stupid. Pedaled home. 
“Did I see you on my street?” she asked next day.
“Yes.” No excuse, no explanation.

Twenty-six years later like a bullet, sudden pain.
I fell down shouting AAGH. The ER doctor called it 
epidemic pleurisy also known as Devil’s Grip, 
an infection surrounding the lungs and yes, 
it comes fast and feels like it’s crushing. 
“Took your breath away, did it?”
Above the white coat her face, a fragrance 
like ferns unfurling and I said “Hey! Remember me?” 
The thrush laugh. A gorgeous smile. 
Deep voice: “You were the quiet type, 
so this should be easy. Just go home and rest.” 

Twenty-two more years pass and yesterday 
out of the blue she messages me: 
You okay? You keeping safe?
No explanation, no excuse. 
Some threads are invisible as virus.
I tell her I’m safe. Sheltering in place. What’s up?
She’s still ER, pandemic front line. She writes: 
A surgeon died. 
A moment later: 
My husband.
I tell her I’m so sorry. How awful. How sad.
A minute passes. Then her final message: 
I don’t know what made me think of you.


Joe Cottonwood has spent a lifetime repairing other people’s homes and is still repairing his own. He lives with his high school sweetheart in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Random Saints — poems of kindness for an unkind age.

© 2020, Joe Cottonwood

5 comments on “Crush, by Joe Cottonwood

  1. Joe this is wonderful…that subtle connection over so many years, always with “no explanation, no excuse.” True as bedrock.


  2. Thomas Davis says:

    I love this poem, both the craft of the story and the skill of the ending.


  3. Alison Bullock says:

    I loved the lean writing style here. Such sharp spare. It makes the pain and yearning feel real and sharp.


  4. Diana Kay Smith says:

    This how I aspire to write.


  5. Tony Press says:

    Gorgeous. I’d say “simply” gorgeous, but it wasn’t a simple task to create this beauty.


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