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.

Advertisements

10 Months

Another 27th day hits
the way heat slaps

my face when I leave
an air-conditioned

shell. He would have walked
in it—no matter

what. I mention an MIT cap
and ring to a young architect

who knows
the Institute well. He says

as much as it changes
it remains the same. My father

faced change,
loved the same.

Eight Months

While dreaming,
our number
transforms into
a symbol
that gives
permission to go
on forever. One
sprawling figure

eight

through the seasons. But
it turns out
8 is not ∞
You have stopped
counting as I build momentum.
Grief can’t be quantified.
I must resort
to art as I carry you

with me on and off
the trace.

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.

27 August 2012

For My Father

The Mississippi flows
a calm at my feet
to send the message
in ripple effect:

I must trust
that your spirit will continue
to guide and nudge me
(despite inevitable snags) the way

you always did
when you were alive.

A Shattered Green

Pot decorates the curb. She doesn’t understand
your words. Not used to you
yet—but she says

she loves you. Better
that way. A voice that smokes down
the river around

Mississippi. Floods
or droughts, you’ll let the intro carry you
through block party

barricades—access is yours
in any language. She’ll be brave
with you to sweep it away.

Arch

His brows came to me
in an early morning

dream—the phase between involuntary
twitching and vision adjusting

to new light. What was irresistible
becomes grotesque. Even I have limits

to exaggeration. My love is
not exponential.

Some of it becomes invisible. Still,
I am pleased to open

my eyes to engage expressions
as they appear.

No. 9 or So

Not built for long-term love
excursions, she seeks a glimmer
in a warmer gray—couldn’t
draw a picture to convey her way 

through an open door.
To fiddle with a lock and swing
into a door jam
is 

the extent
of her inclination
to reconfigure lines
and what might get shaded 

inside. She’s not interested
in that constraint—others float
to the surface
of this potion 

she may, or may not, number.