FALL 2011




Solidus Online

Craig Greenman

The Only Thing Good Is the Moon

* * *

The last time I saw my grandmother was at a nursing home in a part of town I’d never seen. It was raining and the leaves were falling. They stuck to the sidewalk, then to your shoe, having dropped from the rain.
My grandmother’s hair was drawn from her face. She was lying on her back.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” she said.
“Well,” she muttered.
She’d been laid out under a few blankets. The TV was on, softly, and the door was ajar. The smell of urine came from the hallway.
“You should cut your hair,” she said. “Girls don’t like long hair.”
I took her hand. It was damp.
“How are you feeling?” I said.
My grandmother was ninety-one years old. She was dying.
“The nurses are lousy,” she said.
I examined her room. It was a modest cell looking onto a parking lot. My grandmother’s name, “Hazel Quinn,” was written above the bed on a paper heart. The walls were made of cinder blocks.
“Do you watch TV?” I asked.
“Oh” – she was surprised – “I watch Pat Sajak.”
“You mean the ‘Wheel of Fortune’?” I said.
“Yes, that.”
I hadn’t seen her since her surgery. My father and two aunts had been there. The ward had had a slow elevator.
She looked at me. “Your hair is curly,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“It didn’t used to be so curly.”
“Do the girls like it that curly?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. I could hear it raining outside.
“It’s very long,” she said.

My grandmother hadn’t been diagnosed with anything new; she was just dying. She had been dying, off and on, for about a year.
“Charlie,” she said, “what happens afterwards?”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“After you go.”
“What happens?”
“Don’t ask me that,” I said.
“I don’t mean, do people come to your funeral.”
“Do you believe in angels, Charlie?”
“No,” I said.
“I don’t believe in angels, either.”
“Do you believe in God?” she said.
“Please don’t ask me that, Grandma,” I said. “You know.”
She didn’t reply.
“What happens afterwards, Charlie?” she repeated.
I squeezed her hand. “You’re not going anywhere,” I said.

I stepped into the hall.
I saw an old acquaintance of mine. He was visiting someone – he didn’t say whom. I tried, but I couldn’t remember his name. All I could remember was that he went by his middle name.
He watched me as if he were waiting for me to say something. Then he shook my hand and walked away.
From the hallway, I could see inside the rooms. There were machines for which I had no names. The nurses wore baby blue smocks.
“What’s on TV?” I said as I returned to my grandmother’s room.
“What?” she asked.
“I said, ‘What’s on TV’?”
She didn’t elaborate. “What’s on TV?” I repeated.
My grandmother began to cry. It started with a whimper. Then she gripped both sides of her bed and shook the blankets.
“I hate it!” she screamed.
She turned toward me. “I hate it, Charlie!”
I stared at her. The veins in her neck were ugly.
“Don’t,” I said.
“Don’t what?” she cried. “What am I supposed to do, Charlie?”I looked out the window. The parking lot was dark. The sky receded and a streetlight came on.

“Your grandpa’s a stinkpot,” my grandmother said.
“Okay,” I said.
“I don’t like the cemetery,” she continued. “It’s too dark. I don’t want to be in a box next to your grandfather in a box.”
“Put us in the same box,” she concluded.
“Okay,” I said.
Neither of us spoke again for a while.
“How’s your church?” she said.
“Fine,” I replied.
“Are there any girls there?”
“How’s your mass?”
“The same,” I said. “I say the same things as before.”
“Then you’re a liar, Charlie.”
I didn’t respond for a moment.
“It’s a living,” I said.
“That’s true!” she laughed. “It’s a living!”
“They like me,” I went on. “It’s important for them.”
“For whom?” my grandmother asked.
“The parishioners.”
“What happens afterwards, Charlie?” She rolled over in bed.

A nurse entered with some pills. She put them, with a cup of water, on the nightstand next to the bed. Then she left.
“So, Charlie,” my grandmother said, “are you going to pray for me now?”
“There’s nothing to pray for,” I said. “You’re fine.”
She snorted. “Does that make it official? Isn’t there a form you have to fill out?”
“Stop it,” I said.
“Your father asked you to come, didn’t he?”
“No,” I lied.
I’d come over the night before on the ferry. My father was afraid that she would die before confessing.
“What are you thinking about?” my grandmother said.
I drew my strength from my parishioners, like a man watches his dogs play in the water. “Excuse me, Grandma,” I said.
I stepped into the hall. My acquaintance was still there.
“Would you like a smoke?” I said.
“All right,” he replied.
We went outside and smoked.
“Quite a night,” I said. The darkness had broken. The clouds were passing before the moon, white and empty.
My acquaintance watched me. “Do you know why I’m here?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“It’s Trudy, Charlie.”
“Oh,” I said.
Trudy was a girl I’d dated in high school. She had a genetic disease – MS? I was in the seminary when I’d heard. After that I avoided her.
“That’s terrible,” I said.

We went to Trudy’s room. She was lying bare except for a thin blanket. A tube ran from a machine to her throat. Every two or three seconds, her face tightened.
“Hi, Trudy,” I said.
She didn’t say anything.
“Do you remember me?”
She nodded.
“Christ is with you,” I said. “He loves you, Trudy.”
She opened her lips – then closed them – then opened them and closed them and opened them – and then she left them open.
“I’m afraid,” is what she had said.
Back in high school, I’d taught Trudy how to water-ski – or tried to teach her. She couldn’t get up. She would drag behind the boat. I would circle back; yell at her; tell her she just had to will it done. Later we found out she’d had the disease. The first sign was clumsiness (for which she was famous), followed by an early death.

I sat with Trudy for a while; then I went back into the hall. Trudy’s mother, who had also been sitting with her, followed me out.
“So that’s your God,” she said.
“No,” I corrected her.
“Yes,” she corrected me. “That’s what he did to his own son.”
Trudy’s mom looked like Trudy might have looked.

When I returned to my grandmother’s room, she was asleep. The room was dark and the television was on. My grandmother wore a pink sweatshirt.
I took her hand and pressed it to my mouth.
“Please, God,” I said.
Back in the seminary, I made the case that, because praying is a reflex, it must be true. You wouldn’t pray, evolutionarily speaking, unless there was something to it. But when I make that argument now, it falls on deaf ears. You don’t have to believe in something that exists.
I went out to the Buick to find my things.

“The Only Thing Good Is the Moon,” was originally published in Noö Journal #11.


What struck me when I began writing stories was how the world came alive for me again
Conversation with Craig Greenman
Nick Ford

What got you into writing poetry and stories? (I know you talked about this at your workshop earlier but this would be a good sort of intro question for people who did not attend)

I started writing stories seriously a few summers ago, when I was thinking about travelling to China, but decided to write a story set there instead. Then I kept on writing them. I began writing new poetry recently, after a poetry workshop by Christina Cook, who taught writing in the Fall at Colby-Sawyer.

What similarities (if any) do you see between writing, reading and doing philosophy and doing more literary things like reading poetry and so on?

What struck me when I began writing stories was how the world came alive for me again, in a similar way that it did when I first studied philosophy. There were so many new things to think about. I could look at something – say, a scene outside my car as I was driving down the road – and imagine creating a story out of it. The same thing happened when I first began philosophy. It gave me all kinds of new things to think about, all kinds of interesting questions and ideas.

Has writing helped you in ways that philosophy has not? How so?

There are options for thought and expression in creative writing that philosophy doesn’t always have. Philosophy tends to focus on logical or argumentative rigor, while creative writing tends to focus on “phenomenological” rigor – the way things appear to us – the way we experience them. There’s also a narrative element in fiction or poetry that’s not always there in philosophy. However, working on my philosophy book (Expression and Survival) got me ready me to write creatively, both in the sense that a book project is something you have to stick with, and because the habits I learned while editing the book made my fiction and poetry better. Also, the dialogue element in philosophy is similar to the dialogue element in creative writing. So while there are significant differences between creative writing and philosophy – generally speaking, they’re different modes of expression – they also dovetail in neat ways.

Do you have a favorite poet or writer?

I haven’t read enough poetry to have a favorite. My favorite fiction writers include Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, Marguerite Duras, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and André Malraux.

What's your favorite style of poetry/writing?

I tend to like work that’s relatively spare, but with big ideas. Basically, language that’s relatively easy to read, but not everyday or colloquial, and which taps into some enduring truths about human beings


Craig Greenman teaches philosophy as Associate Professor of Humanities at Colby-Sawyer College. His fiction has been published in Potomac Review, PANK, 10,000 Tons of Black Ink (Best of 2009 Edition), and other journals. It has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. His story, “The Only Thing Good Is the Moon,” was originally published in Noö Journal.