I kept ignoring what you were.
You showed me from the very first
but it was clothed in silky fur.
I kept ignoring what you were.
Your hide was bare for years before
I found it was my unquenched thirst
saw water where lay only dirt.
You showed me from the very first.
all evening we passed
a yawn back and forth
we woke to August
the sun’s angle changed
Junebugs gleam green, thwack loud athwart the eaves
and any other thing that blocks their way. The doctor said
the other day this growing haze is just my focal distance
in the prelude to its ebb, and last night when we rode
our bikes far out to Island Home, I squinted at the roofs,
tried to remember which was my department head’s,
thought of that time two decades back when I was the sole
graduate there for a spring soiree, not having checked
with any of my cohort prior, and so for an entire blue
evening I perspired and flushed with youth and shame
among the giants in my field, tasting for the first time
a few dishes of that land: green beans still crisp in dark
and bitter oil, laced with seeds I tasted later, their having stuck
between my teeth, and pale red wine that dried my tongue,
and cheeses sharp with salt and earth. A story I heard later:
the head was never more in shape than in the year or two
he wrote his book on Joyce, and rowed the Puget Sound
and pedaled his fast bike around the capes and coves.
Likewise, that lurid bite a friend fed me later still, that once
this scholar’s wife (a prof herself) confided with a smirk
he came home one day so redolent of sweat and effort
that, ravished, she crushed him to her – it was just nature
doing its work to ripen desire – and how shocked
I was at this frank talk of sex among the middle-aged,
unknowing yet of how my thirties would unfold, the jolt
of learning my body, too, has its quiet but insistent need.
Prone as I am now in a hammock, my softer-these-days
stomach looks for the moment taut under my shirt, though then
it fills with air and flattens out again, a landscape changing
every minute. This house, which we bought last summer
from two young folks with kids (which we will never bear
ourselves), and which they bought in turn from a still older pair
who first built it, has new cracks from our first year of settling.
We sleep and dance and eat and drink as deeply as we dare
from these vessels in which we likewise find ourselves.
At night in groups the local kids ride bikes right past our lawn.
We watch them pick up speed, to feel the rush of that steep slope
that winds its blind and swift way down to the main road.
I looked so beautiful wearing
my first year of being kept.
His shirts stayed so pressed,
all printed with blue panes.
The woman we hired
in the city repeated
and had a mouth on her
all the more attractive next
to my prim book-learned tongue.
I admit her skill, though it
made me at the same time sick
being made to moan by one
who was not my own true love
while he looked on.
But that was what he desired.
Each night the wine turned
his teeth gray as my mother’s
eyes, while his own burned
like just-cooled obsidian,
and his face swam above
mine in bed, fanning me
with fumes. Our doom,
our Eden seemed sealed
until I cracked it loose,
destroyed the rhyme. In time
you’ll repent, he promised
in a moment of calm.
But I never did, and left
by the east gate – the angel
crossed his flaming sword
behind me, barring my return –
without a word or qualm.
Last night you let me talk about before
you came, the loneliest time I’ve ever lived.
It seemed to cause you pain to hear it told again.
Today I woke and through our front window admired
the even lines of lawn you’d mowed. You are so steady,
even when you bow and reel. Your quiet order
helps me heal. I only hope I’ve healed you, too.
She gulps milk straight from the carton.
Her gun stays barely holstered, safety off.
She wears neither bra nor sunscreen
nor seatbelt. In the feature of my life,
she has appeared in only a few frames,
but key scenes all. A real character. One I don’t
know so well. I call her by her last name
or handles like Bitch and Warden and Want.
When the sun sets, we meet east of town,
furthest from the fading light, and turn
and face across a sea of rutted mud.
And though her eyes are hid, I know their burn
and know their anger as surely as my own
and when her heart beats, I too feel its blood.
When you meet him, you won’t recognize him. He seems weak:
reflects, where you would have asserted your vaster power.
His wife talks, and he listens. Only when she’s done, he speaks.
And she is eager to hear him. What a strange feat, this man
who has managed to command the ear and willingness of a woman.
But he cries. And thus, you sneer. He is your salvation, but you can’t hear.
Won’t hear or relent. Your arms are bunched with muscle and complaint.
His are lean and smooth; they hold his dear in the dead of night
and hers encircle him in turn. You could kick his ass, and then go home
to the wife who never thanks you fully enough for all you’ve done,
who is never satisfied, never silent, who sags so it reminds you you’re
not young anymore and someday you will die. My dearest former
love, please meet the man you could have been, and could be still:
the one man who most needs you. The one man you could kill.