Albany en Recto Verso | Ted Jean

You learn that your little sister is dying in benighted small town Oregon. No redneck herself, she is a sweetheart. Make no mistake: she is prone to a minor repertory of mild ethnic improprieties, not from malice, but simple white chick ignorance, which has nettled you, though not unforgivably. Your wife, you must remember, who is Chinese/American and beautiful beyond all hope, is equally apt to ethnic pigeonholing, so it’s a bit disingenuous to rail about that sort of thing when it’s coming at you from earnest dumbass white people whose cultural influence is circumscribed by a working-class sawmill alter-Arkansas gun-toting Evangelical muddy river tavern milieu, but wait a second, monkey mind, you were talking about your sister: You must see her, hold her hand, kiss her forehead, hear her fear and wondering. So, get your stuff in the truck. Corn nuts for nutrition, a modest emergency supply of citrus-flavored vodka, maple walking stick carved by your elder brother, your Carhartt jacket, in case you break down and have to trek several miles in the sifting rain to a gas station to borrow a 12-volt charger on a squeaky hand truck. (Remember that time you limped into Roseburg, with a blown head gasket and melted plug wires, and you had to pull over every ten miles to get creek water into the radiator, on a similar trip north from San Jose to see your brother, who, forty years earlier, was dying from cancer in precisely the same stolid town.) Anyway, hit an inaugural shot of vodka, fire up the truck, get on your way. As you resent the gray freeway, exit north of Salem, angle off to cross the big river, through rustic Independence, and out over the sprouted fields, the swollen creeks and hilltop cemeteries of Polk County. This becomes a problem, because: 1. you are headed south to be with your dying sister; while 2. your idiot heart rises toward bliss to be sailing like an improbably bulky bird across this heartbreak beautiful pedestrian winter Western Oregon farmland. You apply vodka, to douse the attempted joy, rinse the guilt, dilute the sorrow; but, of course, you are simply splashing alcohol onto the emotional coals, and you begin to furtively weep. Fifteen miles further along, as you cross the flooded silt-red Luckiamute and gawk at the calculus of a geese flock flaring to land into a swale of new jade grass, that insidious sense of admiration and peace has gotten up on you again, strong this time, and you turn up the radio for an accompaniment of Russian choral music. Living is shameless.

Ted Jean is a carpenter by trade, and Ted writes, paints, and plays tennis with Amy Lee. Twice nominated for Best of the Net, and twice for the Pushcart Prize, his work appears in the Beloit Poetry Journal, PANK, DIAGRAM, North American Review, and dozens of other publications.