You find the family you need.
Marilyn, a somewhat cured agoraphobic and hoarder,
in the one bedroom to my right,
appeared at my apartment door one night at 3 am
and announced “Never get married,”
before turning on her heel.
At that same door she told me I needed
only five pieces in my wardrobe. Black and white. Classics.
Don’t bother with the rest.
When I tried quitting smoking I enlisted her
to help wean me off, agreed she would ration me,
leave three cigarettes
in my milk chute every day.
First day they were burned to nubs by noon.
She suspected her European husband was a spy
and walked in careful circles around him,
a slippery tyrant who played Wagner every Sunday morning.
So loud it once knocked a picture off my wall, breaking it.
Furious, I headed over.
When he flung open the door I saw, instantly,
the chaos Marilyn had been living with
all this time.
You find the family you need.
Foreboding. This new world.
Hit home for me just this instant
That the fear has seeped in through the cracks
When just this instant, surfing online,
I came across a photo of a couple sharing an embrace.
A warm hug out in public somewhere.
My first thought, not,
Sweet picture, they’re in love,
They are foolhardy.
They haven’t protected themselves.
These two are in danger.
it was easy.
our worries were
divisions of labor
who did more.
she didn’t really, did she?
how could they?
we were cruel.
judgments came swift and brutal.
withholding likes and retweets
the kind word for one small and mean.
before we were cavalier
we knew nothing.
but we can learn.
now we will learn
it was easy
There are always good people.
Mr. Rogers was right.
Just yesterday the man on the plane
who saw me struggling with the overhead bin,
jumped up, took over, smiling.
The mother of three across the aisle
handing out cleaning wipes,
her children willingly helping.
The flight attendant, struggling with her face mask,
joking with her colleague:
“If I hyperventilate behind this, you got me, right?”
The Customs official facing a sea of disgruntled travelers,
asking me if I had fever or sickness: I told him no.
“I’m happy you’re well,” he said, before sending me on.
Heads up, people.
We have widely different families and streets and seas,
but underneath it all
we share a beating human heart,
the same skies and sun,
the same bewitching moon.
My gums are bleeding again.
There’s a stack of papers that need attention
But I can’t find my glasses.
My truck is making that funny noise.
I sleep too late
Because no one wakes me.
I don’t write
I feel it’s all been said.
Your point’s been made:
I am selfish and fickle.
Say whatever you like.
It comes down to the ceremony now, the detail.
Pressing your shirt with the cutaway collar, not too much starch,
the way you liked it.
I sent the shoes that were a bit small,
but they were so fine-looking and you would approve.
At the last minute I remembered your favorite photo of all of us
for tucking into your suit jacket pocket.
Now to prepare the food for the mourners,
sandwiches to begin.
Made differently today,
the correct word is painstakingly.
The butter must be spread
to each and every corner of the bread,
from freshly-baked loaves.
Heap both sides of the bread lavishly with spreads,
No celery, you hated it.
Remove the crusts.
Assemble them ever so gently
before making the final cuts
into perfect quarters.
Clean the knife after each one.
Display them proudly
on my most treasured serving pieces.
And cloth napkins.
All is ready.
Invite them in.
I’ll get this right
for all the times
I thought you’d have my back.
You could have said something.
But all I got was radio silence.
Deafening. Deal breaking.
It’s not that I needed you to defend me.
But it would have been lovely
To see you try.
The sun was hotter.
You can tell.
Look at us squinting against it in photos then.
Everything washed out by the glare,
all detail surrendered.
we could be anybody.
The gardens, look,
It hurt to walk on the grass.
We lay in scorched backyards
slathering butter on our chests,
chain-smoking, eating fluorescent cheesies,
swilling bright red soda.
Everyone burned raw.
Everyone looked deliriously happy.
nothing could go wrong.
Our lives lay ahead of us.
Men were above us,
landing on the moon.
(goodreads.com contest winner).
If it’s true
as grim neurologists now claim,
that our memory is far from intact,
that the very process by which we retrieve the past
is flawed, random, that it plays fast and loose with
fact, detail, even
colour. Then how exactly do I conjure
what was us.
If it’s all up for grabs,
all bets off,
what was true?
The way you looked at me that evening
on the boardwalk,
was it as tender as I picture it now?
And your kiss. As deeply felt?
Did you profess your love in three languages
or was it just two?
Before you round the corner do you actually
turn to look at me
one last time?
Are you in the blue shirt
or the red?
Are those actual tears?
But science falls short. It overlooks
the power of the human heart
which has a memory all its own,
where the moments of our lives never alter,
or grow old.
Where a look remains as tender
as when first it was delivered,
a heart quickens just as it once did.
Yearning as fervent,
passion as acute,
and in that special place
the moments worth remembering
lie in wait for us, inviolate,
undefiled by time
Coming to Nothing
The day-to-day momentum
carries us with it,
making it impossible to imagine
this all shall pass.
Too much to think this will end,
carrying us into oblivion alongside
all of our carefully honed plans,
our exquisite attention to detail.
Who can contemplate that one day
and not so very far away,
another, perhaps even a stranger,
will be charged to sift through our lives,
tossing into random piles
our old day timers, nail polishes
and favorite sunglasses,
expired library cards.
Who can comprehend that one day
Some distant cousin may glance
at a dog-eared photograph
of a laughing, red-haired woman,
and ask with fleeting interest
to no one in particular:
“Wasn’t she a writer?”