Al Maginnes: Creative Writing
Life isn’t like that, one student says,
objecting to the end
of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” how
it leaves the narrator, eyes closed,
between his wife and her blind friend,
everything suddenly unfinished.
Life is just like that, I counter.
Our existence is badly plotted,
a hegira of things unseen and unfinished.
And let us spend a little time
in the gardens and steep landscapes of plot,
the islands where drama roars, where
outcomes lie uncertain, and we cry
for the plain dirt, the dry sandwiches
of our slow-walking lives.
However many of my childhood stories
end with my moving away, waving
from the back of a station wagon
as my father drove us down a street
whose name I was already forgetting,
nothing ends. We live in murals
like the endless canvas backdrops
that once unreeled to give stage plays
a sense of continuity. For my students,
it’s all shootout and car chase
with occasional interludes of porn.
But mostly we are walk-ons,
extras in stories others tell
to roomfuls of strangers who shake their heads
over some kind act or rudeness
we forgot the moment it happened.
From a train window I watched
a woman stumble in her hurry
across the platform, saw the splash
of coins, lipstick, a phone, hairbrush
and paperback book from her purse.
Her face knotted. I was turning
the empty page of my own face away
when she smiled, refusing,
like Carver’s blind man, the role written
for her. Already composing
the next scene, she kneeled
to gather her things, to gather
the story she would tell and laugh.