I saw a woman picking up sticks this morning. She was standing outside of the fenced lot the phone company owns. There is barbed wire along the top. One white oak tree hangs over it, a remnant of the old pine barons on the east end of Long Island. Most were destroyed to make room for cash crops, vineyards and summer homes. Besides the one tree there is nothing but weeds and overgrown grass inside. I don’t know why they would keep people out of an empty lot. As a child I would cross the street to avoid walking near it, assuming it was protecting me from some avoidable electric shock. I still do sometimes. But the woman was there, picking up sticks of uniform length and thickness and bundling them under her arm. She would examine each as if they were slipped under the plexiglass of a pawnshop. These were precious things. As she bent to pick them up her white and grey and black and brown hair fell off her shoulder and nearly touched the ground. I wanted to help her but I didn’t; I just didn’t.
Five people stood in a half circle around the hole,
We looked like pigeons around bread.
I didn’t even know these people’s names.
The pile of frozen dirt was covered with a tarp that waved
in the wind. Behind the priest you could hear it slapping
against the rocks. Everyone felt through their pockets,
stared at the impossible February sky; we all wondered
the same thing, even the priest.
The two sons went first, picking up islands of hard dirt
and throwing them down onto the casket. The sound
was unbearable . The priest put his hand
on the wife’s back. She stared at the soil in her palm
as if it were a nail. It fell out of her hand slowly, each pinch
being allowed to say what it needs to, until it was gone.
The most terrible thing the dead do to us is leave.
I sit in the apartment and smoke cigarettes
with the windows open. At certain times of day
the plume refuses to leave; its presence tells me
that it is the type of friend that will leave only when
it is damn well ready to do so. I don’t rush it.
Your work shoes near the door cough suggestively
to each other. They wait; I wait. The sun starts to tuck
itself neatly inside the houses behind our building.
The last light bounces off the tin roofs to the west
of the city, drenches the wooden floors in a deep rotten
orange. At this time of day it is nearly impossible for me
not to think about Halloween, about laughter.
The smoke packs its things and readies itself, checks to
make sure it didn’t leave the keys on the counter. It
is a slow departure, one that says: you will miss me
when I’m gone. It is somehow always right.
Once it leaves everything is suddenly quiet like a leaf
pressed into a page or like a dead dog on the side of the
interstate somewhere. It is tragic to see something so alive
become so still. I tap another cigarette out of the pack
to bring life back to this place while I wait for you to return.
“What is there about fire that’s so lovely?”
It’s the way you kick your tiny ankles
when you’re reading with your legs crossed.
Or maybe the things that you do with your
hands when you don’t know what to say.
The way the summer surrenders itself
to the fall is the way that I love you.
I have upturned myself; my arms
always pointed in the direction of
home. Sometimes I watch you sleep and
I can feel the upheaval–the reddish light
behind the clouds. In those moments I
hear you laughing somewhere. I will spend
our lives waking you up in the night with
some ghost I created of wallpaper shapes
or the disintegration of leaves under wind.
Some days I feel I am shoveling the bones out of my
self. Bringing them to you as a gift, a penance.
I want you to see every part of me that I would kill if
I could, but I can’t. You kiss me as if I were perfect.
I have given you the worst parts of myself
and you just lick your thumb and I am
"There were the roses, in the rain.
Don’t cut them, I pleaded. They won’t last, she said.
But they’re so beautiful where they are.
Agh, we were all beautiful once, she said,
and cut them and gave them to me in my hand.”
-William Carlos Williams
I walked home at dawn today.
The moon hung there impossibly
laughing at the blueness of the space
behind the clouds. There was no sound
anywhere; you should have been there.
In four days I will lay in the bed we have
grown to share. It will be dawn and the
morning will be as cruel and as heartless
as a stone. Daylight is the only evil known
to sleeping lovers.
You will kiss me goodbye and it will feel
ancient. Ancient like fresh apples ancient
like the May pole ancient like the first snow of
winter ancient like laughter. Some days I think
we are as old as honey. Some days, gold.
If I could I would remove all of the sweetness that lives
inside of me sometimes. It would exit me
in my sleep like a plume of wind through my throat.
I would catch in a balloon that would be as bright
and as yellow as a sunflower.
You would carry it in your tiny hands for the
days and years that you wake into the world–
because I could never write a love poem nearly
as beautiful as the mornings I get to spend with
you. But you will see that balloon suspended as
bright and as heavy as the sun and know that I tried.
We listened to talk radio
and watched the interstates slide
into memory. Everything was simple;
the days tasted like honey on toast.
You wore my favorite dress of yours and
drank chicory coffee. We danced through
the creole heat and at night we laughed and
fucked with the windows open.
Love can be an unbelievably easy thing,
like turning the ignition on a car or
dicing onions while you smoke cigarettes
in the window with your legs crossed.
I remember your glasses
that you left on the table
next to my bed.
They laid waiting like a bee hive
and I knew I could never write a poem
I had a dream of the interstate last night. The black asphalt serpent tangled around my wrist. I looked down at the armlet like a wedding band. Some days there is no separation between you and then sun. I don’t fear the distance or the consequence, all I want to do hold it in my arms.
P.S. I passed a small brick house today. There was a dog playing on the lawn. I thought of tripping over your shoes in the door way, your dresses swaying in the closet like branches. I will never stop loving you.
Three shirts, one pair of pants, one shirt, a carton of cigarettes, four books and a notebook full of unfinished poems and love letters to you: this is my life if it were boiled in a pot. The morning is a terrible time; the birds and cars and people talking casually on well-finished porches are cruel. They are somehow my captors, and somehow the exact opposite of that. I search for my keys, wallet. Without you, I can’t seem to find anything. Almost everything I do is a love letter to you. I pull clothes on in the mirror that has stayed with me a decade or longer. This, I decide, is the only betrayal I have ever done to you.