Poems We Love: "Anyways" by Suzanne Cleary

Painting by  Neville Harrison

Painting by Neville Harrison

By Suzanne Cleary

For David

Anyone born anywhere near
     my home town says it this way,
        with an s on the end:
           "The lake is cold but I swim in it anyways,"
      "Kielbasa gives me heartburn but I eat it anyways,"
   "(She/he) treats me bad, but I love (her/him) anyways."
Even after we have left that place
    and long settled elsewhere, this
       is how we say it, plural.
          I never once, not once, thought twice about it
      until my husband, a man from far away,
   leaned toward me, one day during our courtship,
his grey-green eyes, which always sparkle,
   doubly sparkling over our candle-lit meal.
      "Anyway," he said. And when he saw
         that I didn't understand, he repeated the word:
      "Anyway. Way, not ways."
   Corner of napkin to corner of lip, he waited.
I kept him waiting. I knew he was right,
   but I kept him waiting anyways,
      in league, still, with me and mine:
         Slovaks homesick for the Old Country their whole lives
      who dug gardens anyways,
   and deep, hard-water wells.
I looked into his eyes, their smoky constellations,
   and then I told him. It is anyways, plural,
      because the word must be large enough
   to hold all of our reasons. Anyways is our way
of saying there is more than one reason,
   and there is that which is beyond reason,
      that which cannot be said.
         A man dies and his widow keeps his shirts.
      They are big but she wears them anyways.
   The shoemaker loses his life savings in the Great Depression
but gets out of bed, every day, anyways.
   We are shy, my people, not given to storytelling.
      We end our stories too soon, trailing off "Anyways...."
         The carpenter sighs, "I didn't need that finger anyways."
      The beauty school student sighs, "It'll grow back anyways."
   Our faith is weak, but we go to church anyways.
The priest at St. Cyril's says God loves us. We hear what isn't said.
   This is what he must know about me, this man, my love.
      My people live in the third rainiest city in the country,
         but we pack our picnic baskets as the sky darkens.
      We fall in love knowing it may not last, but we fall.
   This is how we know home:
someone who will look into our eyes
   and say what could ruin everything, but say it,

(from Trick Pear, Carnegie Mellon University Press, © 2007;
Southern Poetry Review, Spring/Summer, 2003)

Find more by Suzanne Cleary at her website

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