You are an unfinished poem
As a matter of urgency
I force myself to slide you
into some distant drawer of memory.
I put you there,
my unfinished poem.
I do not want to write you:
the images you breathe
and the sound of your voice
alliterative across the second hands,
the stanzas that are divided
by space, separation.
I go on with my days.
There are bills to pay
and my friends tell me
other poems to write.
I make one about a boy
who throws a tantrum
in the middle of the produce section
and runs down to aisle seventeen
where I find him
half turned over his shoulder
to see if I will follow.
He’s just far enough away,
wanting to hide,
yet those eyes across the thick winter scarf
are exposed skeleton bones, frame of a house
glossed over with ice in the moonlight.
He’s frozen there, some part of him
wanting to be found.
Suddenly, I realize it is your poem again.
I sigh and I tell you to leave.
I write a poem about junk shops.
The copper kettle I pick up with my hand
stained and smelling like a thousand pennies.
Practically a poem right there.
Or the Laurel and Hardy tie collection.
Nice enough for a haiku, with the right adjective.
Actually, it’s the mismatched oven mitts that
really do it for me. Blood orange and dirt brown.
One folded atop of the other
as if napping, surrendered to the reality
of not actually being a pair
but content to lie there
hoping someone will pick them anyway.
I don’t want to be the one.
I know the comments I’ll hear
and how utterly ridiculous:
there are perfectly matched pairs two aisles over
next to the candles and tea cups.
Still, I can’t stop staring
at the blood orange and dirt brown.
She’s draped across him, probably telling him
to pass her another slice of pizza
as he says that the basil is just right,
slides his one thumb along hers
which is as far as they’ll go all night
no matter how warm they are in the palms.
No one even cares to look
for the other blood orange and dirt brown.
Especially not them. I decide not to wake the couple,
perfectly soundless and entwined
in the half-light. Of course, this is when you yawn
(as you always do)
toward the end of my poems
and, in breaking the dark and hidden silence,
give yourself away.
Sleepwalking into prayer
The rain that was falling
fell on the righteous
and on the sinners,
fell on your beard
fell on the curls along my neck.
No part of you was not now darkened
by the watery, warmless touch of autumn rain;
the shoes near my front doorway,
slipped off in exhaustion, drenched.
When I turned off the light
it was the first time
in four months
I did not kneel beside my bed
to pray. To pray and at some point
use your name, let it float
in the hanging air, into the candle smoke
into the blankets and the wooden floor
the pile of papers on the reading chair,
the chair collecting a puddle:
damp clothes, sadness.
Somewhere between midnight and morning
my knees and palms awoke
more lucid than my mind.
My kneecaps found the cold boards
and my fingers formed a temple atop
the tangle of sheets. Still half asleep,
my body searched itself
for what was missing, the part of the day
I was in between waking and sleeping
no words, no Father in Heaven or Hallowed by Thy Name
or Encircle your good servant, the one that I love
and Keep him safe from harm or temptation,
do not let him go wasted and unloved. No.
The prayer I said was a position, no sound.
The only way left to ask
was with my body, my arms
my legs and my kneecaps and my hair
still wet with rain like your hair
still wet with rain. Every fiber of me
asked after every fiber of you.
The bones of my bone, the flesh of my flesh;
I do not know how else to ask
what to call you.
I have seen
a good number march before me,
the procession of thirty years,
unsuitable and unfit to be my partner.
You have said the same.
My mind can rationalize and accept,
but it is the body
the inches of skin and the muscles
in the arms that strain at right angles
the wrestling in the middle of the night
for a blessing,
it is the body that continues
the conversation; the body shaped
like a comma as it hugs the side
of the bed, soaked in sweat and rain
waiting for the rest of the sentence
the rest of the story
the sleep that comes
Been thinking about Grandpa Marty lately. Survivor of a prisoner of war camp. I hope I inherited a bit of his determination and perseverance.
Grandpa is on the left.
When Grandpa was a prisoner, he kept a journal:
I remember reading parts of this journal when I was nine, just after Grandpa died.
We miss you.
Tonight’s agenda: Local Natives
Pitchfork, 2010. That day was hot as hell.
Probably one of the saddest and most beautiful love songs ever written. Thank you, Ray Davies and The Kinks. And thank you, Elliott Smith for your wonderful cover. Perfect for a rainy day.
1997, Fargo, ND.
The return of the Lion’s mane
At sixteen, he stands in front of the class
bobbing at the podium.
For six whole minutes,
knuckles tapping out
the clumsy words of a presentation
on lion imagery in Allende’s work.
A boy in high-top sneakers
torn and duct taped
and an impish skater grin
surrounded by question marks of curls.
Something about strength,
the wild power of the lion, he said,
how the character of a man can sometimes
be understood by his hair.
Six months later and his seat
is empty. At a meeting in a carpeted room
a principal tells us. Cancer.
When I was sixteen
I worked at a seafood restaurant,
I listened to The Smiths.
Under a fluorescent light, a motivational poster
with a picture of a dock. What I was thinking about
was lions. How lions are not used
to being prey.
I saw him once after that. The cancer had clipped
his mane away to a fuzz.
His eyes were sunken and narrow,
a large purple bruise moved across his hand
when he gave me
his copy of The Stranger. I didn’t say anything.
He made a joke about the mess on my desk
but I wasn’t listening. I was looking at the slightness
of his wrists. In the quiet of the room
I could almost hear the cells bending
in his throat, I could hear the splitting
and the tearing. Over the particles in the overhead
air ducts. Over the computer wires.
I wasn’t sure if I’d see him after that.
Late October, well into a new year,
I’d almost finished my grading for the day.
Sat in another meeting, watching the clock
when I felt something, some shape
form behind me. I turned around.
Christopher, standing in the doorway
the grin I remember and the black hair
sprouting up like a patch of grass
or the first fruits of the season.
His voice was small but warm.
“Ms. Schreck, I came to school
to tell you. I am cancer free.”
I must have looked startled.
He yawned slightly, came closer.
His hands moved wildly.
He repeated himself:
“I am cancer free.”
And he lifted his palms,
open and inviting
a slow shrug to the space around us,
a way of letting me see the nail scars.