There’s nothing worse
than feeling bad and not
being able to tell you.
Not because you’d kill me
or it would kill you, or
we don’t love each other.
It’s space. The sky is grey
and clear, with pink and
blue shadows under each cloud.
A tiny airliner drops its
specks over the UN Building.
My eyes, like millions of
glassy squares, merely reflect.
Everything sees through me,
in the daytime I’m too hot
and at night I freeze; I’m
built the wrong way for the
river and a mild gale would
break every fiber in me.
Why don’t I go east and west
instead of north and south?
It’s the architect’s fault.
And in a few years I’ll be
useless, not even an office
building. Because you have
no telephone, and live so
far away; the Pepsi-Cola sign,
the seagulls and the noise.
Frank O’Hara, Nocturne
Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, “I am falling to the floor crying,” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well.
Just the other day you were working a comb
through her tangled hair, a riddle
of strawberry knots that took an hour
to unravel. Then you found a stubbed out
cigarette in the flower pot with a bright red stem.
The ladder outside her window.
That speeding ticket
beneath a fridge magnet.
One more year, then ten.
You ask the mirror all the wrong questions.
Wander the woods out back in search of
your makeshift Alice who’s vanished
into a mist of libraries, motorcycles,
misfits and kings.
There are so many rules to be bent
once the photos in the album
start moving too fast.
When we choose to become parents,
we don’t often mean to become heroic.
So much of our love is mistaken for bravery.
It’s January in Texas,
the deepest winter you’ve felt in years.
The mirrors hang in their silence.
Rabbit holes open up all over the yard,
in the pavement, the doorsteps
of every cathedral.
You dodge them in the supermarket,
find three outside your front door.
A neighbor back in Boston calls
to inform you your house has risen
eight inches off the ground.
Dear Mom & Dad,
I found my heart in Arizona. He rides
on two wheels and knows some wicked kung fu.
Says he can’t live without me. I sealed the divorce papers
with a lipstick’d kiss.
Last night I bought a one-way ticket to Seattle.
Did you know dancing in the rain
is a lot like being embraced by
six hundred mouths?
All the men open doors for me
here in Buffalo. Even the young boys.
Thank you for the bed time stories.
Next month, I’m gonna dig my heart
out of the snow and ride it to Texas.
This morning I fell head over high heels
for a circus bear, wrote a six-page manifesto
on garter belts.
Thank you for all forty-three birthday cards you sent,
my heart is a 24-hour chapel because of them.
Enclosed is an invitation to all of my friends.
Their hearts are a forest of tree houses.
My heart is everywhere,
so home is everywhere.
I love you. Please don’t worry.
The story was told to me by another traveller, just passing through. It took place in a foreign country, as everything does.
When he was young he and another boy constructed a woman out of mud. She began at the neck and ended at the knees and elbows: they stuck to the essentials. Every sunny day they would row across to the island where she lived, in the afternoon when the sun had warmed her, and make love to her, sinking with ecstasy into her soft moist belly, her brown wormy flesh where small weeds had already rooted. They would take turns, they were not jealous, she preferred them both. Afterwards they would repair her, making her hips more spacious, enlarging her breasts with their shining stone nipples.
His love for her was perfect, he could say anything to her, into her he spilled his entire life. She was swept away in a sudden flood. He said no woman since then has equalled her.
Is this what you would like me to be, this mud woman? Is this what I would like to be? It would be so simple.
Margaret Atwood (from “Circe/Mud Poems”)
you want to change something about your life
but your lover took both pairs of tweezers.
so you settle for shaving your legs again
and writing around one calf
in drunken pen the lines you keep
reciting to yourself from Marie’s poem
and which you will get
tattooed on that spot as soon
as the credit card company agrees
to pay for it: I am living.
I remember you. yesterday
you wrote a poem that began,
I go to work under a heavy
turban of grief and last week,
Gabi, I’ve been drafting epitaphs
all day – you find an old
pair of tweezers in the back
of the medicine cabinet
and get pulling. each sweet yank
a morsel of pain so good you begin
to understand those teenagers
who carve themselves into scarecrow
figurines. this small pain has
a location. a yes
and an end. what no one tells you
about grief is that it has no edges.
that no matter how much
you love the world, how grateful you are
for sunflowers and trashcans
and your unglamorously aging bones,
you’ll still have dreams
where you’re screaming across a table
at each other about something, you can’t
figure out why until you realize
she died. and here you are. a dull
pair of tweezers in a cluttered apartment,
crying on the floor. you want to make
something beautiful out of your life
but you never learned to paint
and you’re nearly 37. you have
no children and you burn dinner
more often than you dance. you feel
like a cloth set down on something spilled.
useful but soiled. handy, but not essential.
maybe you’ll evaporate, or come apart
in the wash. maybe you’ll figure out
what binds you to this planet
is not a magnet, but a cord so fine
you can slide it across one hand, fold
your fingers around the slippery
umbilical. pull. here is sorrow.
pull. and here is bread. pull. some light
breaks across the linoleum. pull.
where do we go from here.
Marty McConnell, “the fidelity of epitaphs (20 days later)”
Naomi Shihab Nye
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used -
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her — southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag —
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers —
Non-alcoholic — and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands —
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped
— has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.
Well, let it pass, he thought; April is over, April is over. There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Magnetism
Come away with me, he said, we will live on a desert island. I said, I am a desert island. It was not what he had in mind.
Margaret Atwood (from “Circe/Mud Poems”)
Men in sleep aren’t boys, but aren’t
exactly men, either— they soften,
revert to animal,
curled-up beast […]
Not without violence, even now,
your hands clasp when brushed,
or seek out my haunch, my wrist, and hold
for a time, release with a soft grunt, affirm
that I’m here, or someone is.
From “The Merchant of the Picaresque” by Rebecca Hazelton