Crazy for Living
Poems by Linda Sillitoe 

S e c t i o n   I :   J o u r n a l i s t

driving to work in winter

the morning opens like the center of an
old snowball, a half-sphere edged with ice.
inside it, tree trunks and fences erupt
from holes in the snow; they conspire art.

somehow the traffic behaves on unusually dry roads;
possibilities appear before me like green semaphores.
for see how light paints hollows in the white mountains–
periwinkle and mauve; how a fast swarm of starlings
circles, then selects a dark but long-rooted tree.

writing copy

one week a story on two teens
exploded by a drunk whose
steering wheel rebelled,
the next a feature on a girl
who, similarly clobbered,
took five years to die.

of course you warn the children
not to touch the curling iron
when going potty, or play in
workmen’s trenches, or let in
people they think are friends.
at bedtime you try to forget

the police reporter’s call-in:
a woman tied to a water heater,
raped and sodomized at the point
of a samurai sword by her estranged
husband. he later gets six months
in the county jail and a column inch.

still you suspect the bizarre seems
at the time as stupid and unneeded
as the sheepish guy in the parking
terrace who waits in his warm car,
then rushes to the gate as you reach it,
an average guy, fiftyish with a crewcut,

but walking oddly as if his knees shake
or there is something slippery in his pants. 

November’s End, 1979

Five women talking
church and politics
(religious politics)
in a room lit yellow
in a Virginia woods.

We laughed at the disaster
that hadn’t happened
yet and held our breaths.
Suddenly through the window
a vast current of dark

swept in on us, a flood
of event dry as dark air.
I floated out on that tide
and peered back from miles out.
I saw us there, all of us,

women in a yellow room,
and me seeing not the future
but us where we were
like dew on a slick leaf
in the murmurous night. 

oh how to be the wind

blustering dust down chimneys
sailing roofs like paper airplanes
postponing airplanes in fine air spinning
the world clean the world crazy the world gone

but here we hang by stems
in our navels side by side
here it comes and we wave
like small anonymous hands 

an early elegy in lower case

i pay my respects by saying what’s true
           in love and anger

you served us crumbs, you see, and we hungered
           for our own bowls
           of bread and milk

love your silvery chains, my sisters
           we did              we do
for they are your redemption

oh it is not so simple says my brain
           he let sisters too
gowned in white into those clean chambers

american brothers too are yoked unequally

but it is too late now for anything
but the oversimplification from my heart

in this lush room where we keep prophet ghosts
           i want to fold you in
like a child too sleepy to trust in slumber

but say instead goodbye         hopeflicker        goodbye

for my brothers’ sake i weep at your death
for my sisters i keep my seat as you pass


It’s not his face I see
but a suede jacket, then
his hand skimming my hair.
He says something and my face
rubs his coat, my eyes close.

He doesn’t say wake up,
knowing that wake and sleep
are laps of the same obstacle
course, the risks are rising.
Because he knows, I can forget.

I suppose I know who he is.
But I may go with him yet. 

sonnet for spring

honeysuckle in exhaust, a fine green
beard between walks; spring softens us
again. easier to know the earth as a drum
encased in living skin, not concrete;
harder to forget the beat of boots on skin.
forgetting doesn’t mean you don’t remember.

daily we avoid small obstacles and wait
our turn. we forget who burned, who burns,
who still knows the crunch of a fist on her face
and the unwelcome thrust; we need a newborn jazz
to sing out the forgotten. we meet the boots
on mutual ground and agree we all are barefoot.

walking home we smell the honeysuckle, and at
skies’ edge we spot the lift of shining wings.

During Recess

Spring sneaked into town while court convened.
One noon, I walk from my office to my
old neighborhood and find it well-kept.
The ditch I’d hurtle galloping home
from school has been curbed and guttered.

Jack’s shop is owned and run by Asians now
who mop, exchanging Vietnamese. I buy candy
from the uncrowded shelves and return to work
tracing my old route to junior high, now a shell.
Behind me, my grade school hollers its recess.

Listening back, I hear my own voice, my own
shoes on the hopscotch, swiftly recalling how
to ignore the bell until the line forms
then beat the blood in my face to the door
where I assume that Miss Blunt still waits.

No one supposes I am walking back to my ugly notes
on a double murder, a naturalist losing spring
to unearth a spider web. Extricated, it must gleam
geometrically, word by word. Sunstreams, continue your
hard green in the surprised leaves; give me, unjustified,

what killing cost: more sky, more time. 


One night I dreamed that I had killed a snake
in the presence of people who all understood
why I had to. That was all they understood.

For no one observed how the inner form
collected itself and pursued me, intent
on my destruction. Like drivers on the freeway,

oblivious, people walked me to tall buildings,
rode the elevator to the wrong floors and obstacles.
Tolerant of my alarm, their minds were elsewhere.

But it was coming, the snake that can go anywhere
intent on my destruction. Then I happened upon a room
with fabric on the shelves. The people working there

said these swatches cure ghostsickness. I slipped on
a sleeve that hid my hand, thinking I could turn
the spell to counteract what crept after me.

I rushed through the maze to find my writing room
and dusted everything with the snake on my arm, knowing
I must rinse, coil, and hang it fast outside my door.

Our kinship tracks me still, as I wake on his birthday:
the anonymous cousin and killer I exposed, the likeness;
and I born on the birthday of one that he destroyed. 


Sometime before it became too late,
you should have been brought here
and doused in red and blue
(some green)
until your inky caverns emptied
poison on the red clay
and left you whole.

poison to be powdered
like burned bone
under the Navajo sun
then swept on a long tangent
by the dark wind.
nor could you approach
this land unrecognized: here

a sane man lives by his heart.
a crazy man lives in his head.