It was as though you were a man in a wheelchair,
your legs cut off at the knee.
But I wanted you to walk.
I wanted us to walk like lovers,
arm in arm in the summer evening,
and believed so powerfully in that projection
that I had to speak, I had to press you to stand.
Why did you let me speak?
I took your silence as I took the anguish in your face,
as part of the efforts to move —
It seemed I stood forever, holding out my hand.
And all that time, you could no more heal yourself
than I could accept what I saw.
but you know how to raise it in me
like a dead girl winched up from a river. How to
wash off the sludge, the stench of our past.
How to start clean. This love even sits up
and blinks; amazed, she takes a few shaky steps.
Any day now she’ll try to eat solid food. She’ll want
to get into a fast car, one low to the ground, and drive
to some cinderblock shithole in the desert
where she can drink and get sick and then
dance in nothing but her underwear. You know
where she’s headed, you know she’ll wake up
with an ache she can’t locate and no money
and a terrible thirst. So to hell
with your warm hands sliding inside my shirt
and your tongue down my throat
like an oxygen tube. Cover me
in black plastic. Let the mourners through.
I cannot possibly think of you
other than you are: the assassin
of my orchards. You lurk there
in the shadows, meting out
conversation like Eve’s first
confusion between penises and
snakes. Oh be droll, be jolly
and be temperate! Do not
frighten me more than you
have to! I must live forever.
On the car radio, the song we heard
that night at the hotel. I remember sitting
on the edge of the bed while you smoked
near the window, how you looked out
at the parking lot, then flicked away
the cigarette’s dead end. The way you came
to me then, and stood there while I
pressed my face against you and the song
receded and returned through random static.
Of course I knew nothing would be right
between us for long, despite the elegant room,
the expensive wine, the years I had wanted
exactly this, the two of us again
as we had been. Your hand stroking my hair,
my arms around your waist – I knew
what I was doing, listening hard to the tenderness
in the singer’s voice, tenderness threading
its way toward us so that what was missing
would be there later – in case our parting
didn’t mark me as I needed to be marked,
that memory would come back to hurt me.
When I walk in,
men buy me drinks before I even reach the bar.
They fall in love with me after one night,
even if we never touch.
I tell you I’ve got this shit down to a science.
They sweat with my memory,
alone in cheap rooms they listen
to moans through the wall
and wonder if that’s me,
letting out a scream as the train whines by.
But I’m already two states away, lying with a boy
I let drink rain from the pulse at my throat.
No one leaves me, I’m the one that chooses.
I show up like money on the sidewalk.
Listen, baby. Those are my high heels dangling from the
I’m the crow flapping down,
that’s my back slip
you catch sight of when the pain
twists into you so deep
you have to close your eyes and weep like a goddamned
She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.
She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.
Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,
has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,
done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.
She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.
I give you back your heart.
I give you permission—
for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound—
for the burying of her small red wound alive—
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother’s knee, for the stockings,
for the garter belt, for the call—
the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.
She is so naked and singular.
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.
Last night I dreamed that someone told me: your love is dead.
Your love, the girl you loved when you were young,
In a cold city in the South
where the parks are one huge dewdrop,
at the hour when the fog is still virgin
and the city turns its back
on the gaze of desperate souls.
And she died- they told me – without saying your name.
Why did he write to her,
“I can’t live without you”?
And why did she write to him,
“I can’t live without you”?
For he went west, she went east,
And they both lived.
Heart, we will forget him,
You and I, tonight!
You must forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.
When you have done pray tell me,
Then I, my thoughts, will dim.
Haste! ‘lest while you’re lagging
I may remember him!