In Search of the Lost Art

“A writer is essentially a spy. . . .
With used furniture he makes a tree.
A writer is essentially a crook.”
—Anne Sexton (from “The Black Art”)

When we were lovers,
I didn’t know how
to wear lipstick.

When we were lovers,
we built and broke
our own code.

The Def Leppard
drummer still
used both hands.

Orwell’s novel
did not come true.
Ronald Reagan was president.

When we were lovers,
I had all the licenses
I would ever get—none.

When we were lovers,
you were thick,
I was snug.

We had no world
wide web. MTV was born.
Mark Zuckerberg, not yet.

We didn’t need replacements. Heard music
beneath stars, discovered our bodies’ perfect cadence
in a station wagon way-back.

When we were lovers,
house alarms went off
spontaneously.

When we were lovers,
eating ice cream was erotic—
didn’t give me stomach aches yet.

One bath almost shared.
One shower together
after three years of waiting.

We got locked inside a courtyard
outside a Brooklyn brownstone
and didn’t care.

When we were lovers,
a waft of ghostly smoke
occasionally hovered over the river.

When we were lovers,
we fought as intensely.
Almost.

We could reignite
as soon as one of us got off a plane
at the airport gate.

Thornton Pool had a high dive.
I belly-flopped off it.
You watched a swan glide down.

When we were lovers,
you would drive me home
at daybreak.

When we were lovers,
time stood still
but not for long enough.

When we were lovers,
we couldn’t keep our hands
off each other.

One letter got lost
for months.
Our timing was off.

Before 1950, making love
to one another could happen
through the mail without touching.

When we were lovers, we didn’t know how
three decades later we might submerge ourselves
in deep water to resuscitate the lost art.

Would Have Been

Your 36th
sober birthday if
you had lived. I remember

when you told me
you put down
the bottle. I didn’t understand—

my first tipsy
only weeks before. But
that prayer

I now choke on
between “grant me”
and “the serenity”

since you died. That prayer
I thought you wrote
with your second wife. That prayer

I knew had magic
in it—hanging over
the kitchen sink

ready to help
whoever might read it
come clean. That prayer

I pin
to my heart each night
before I sleep. That prayer

enshrines every gift
you, my father,
ever gave away.

Three Months

The labor of breathing
without gasping
through these hollowed-out
days. The fear

of never being able
to recite the Serenity Prayer
again because of the way
the throat closes shut

before “grant me”
can escape. Just one more

bear hug, one more laugh
over lost cookies, one more
email exchange, just one
more hand squeezing, one

more simultaneous gazing
at the same full moon
while standing thousands of miles
apart, one more walk

side by side
would not be enough.
I surrender to this
grief and put my trust

in the wind still blowing
from those resilient wings.
Death’s got nothing
on them.