for Georgann (Taylor) Turner
March 1, 1951–August 17, 2021
“Dinner and books,” you dubbed our best friend dates,
and while the restaurant might change, it had to be
somewhere in the vicinity of the bookstore—
you picking me up in the mini van that doubled
as kindertransport for your second set of kids,
first fostered, then adopted. The baby seat
in the back rattled without Maggie in it, too quiet
without Max lisping his way through a song
or Emma looking out the window, Ron at home
with them all.
This was your escape, and I got to be part of it.
The food didn’t matter; books did. We’d cruise rows
of shelves like barflies on the hunt, searching for
the just-right specimens to take home for the night,
and perhaps, if it worked out, to keep for a long time.
As we added volumes to the growing bundles
in our arms, we’d find each other in the stacks,
you asking, “Have you read this?” You thought
I’d read everything. But I was not the one who
wintered with Dickens, summered with Austen,
your paperbacks so well-thumbed I bought you
new crisp-paged versions to give the veterans
a break. And while you heartily thanked me,
years later, I found them pristine on your shelves,
realizing your preference for softer, familiar friends.
It stands vacant now, that store we circled like sharks.
Who’d have thought such an institution could disappear?
That you’d be flattened by cancer surgery, followed
by a decade of pain, the metastases chasing you
two states north because, you said, you didn’t want
to die in Elk Grove.
And you didn’t. You’ve hung on all these years,
rewriting the definition of Stage 4, stubbornly
putting the lie to “terminal” in your rental house
by Oyster Bay where the tides ebb and flow
twice daily, where Ron mostly tends to you,
the kids grown, though Maggie and hers live with you.
You delight in your granddaughters, relay their
latest antics when I can get you on the phone.
Now you tell me that you’ve fallen again,
acquired a new shiner. “It’s a real beauty,” you say.
Then, “You should come soon. I have a bookstore
I want to show you.”
And though I don’t know if that shop lives
in your head or in your town, or if you could
stand for an outing to buy books you can
no longer read, it doesn’t matter.
“Yes,” I say into the ether between us.
“Yes, I’ll come.”
Published in Friendship, vol. 3 of the Lifespan series, Pure Slush Books, July 2021
You can listen to Jan reading this poem here.