June 27, 2008
You are what you love (and not what loves you back)
She’d been gone for ten minutes before I decided to leave.
When I come to, I’m face down in the dirt and moss, and I can see ants crawling over my right hand, which is still holding my phone. I have three messages.
It’s hot. Sweat is pooling in all the cracks of my body. The arch of my lower back. My knees. My neck. I roll over to face the sky and feel beads trickling into my ears and eyes.
How did I get here?
June 29, 2008
She sits alone at the plastic bench
She uses for a table
Holds a hot mug to her lips
Presses the hard bones in her elbows
To the roughly textured plastic
Of the off-white table top
This morning is softer and
She enjoys the solitude
And she, in fact,
Isn’t lonely, though
Maybe sometimes longs for
Another type of mourning
I like it best to think of her
Radiant and strong
As she purses to blow the steam
That rises from her tea
And sips a spectrum
That runs from peach to mango
I like it best to think of her
Smiling to herself with
A vague optimism for the day
And thoughts of all who love her
As I silently try to reach her heart
From half a mile away.
June 30, 2008
The bus to county
I remember three things 1) The song playing on the bus (yes, they played the radio) was “Gangstas Make the World Go ‘Round” and all the gangstas—real and wannabe—rapped along; 2) There was a guy in the cage at the front of the bus de-toxing from something and every time he vomited on himself the people sitting directly across from him would laugh; and 3) An effeminate black man was handcuffed to my left hand and every chance he was given made sure that everyone knew that he was a homosexual.
“Does anyone have any special needs?,” a deputy asked during processing, “Medications?” Up shoots his hand and with it mine, “Sir, I’m a homosexual.”
Pause. “No shit.”
But after the laughter died down, they did separate him into the special population of prisoners that were at above-average risk; violence being the worry for this gentleman probably more than sodomy.
This poem is not concerned with language,
but rather with a gesture.
Truth be told it has an agenda.
See it speaking sweetly to you?
This poem misses you when you walk away.
See how it waits for you to finish your sentences,
and acts nonchalant as you answer the phone?
It hopes you’re talking to a girl.
This poem is sad because it wants
to be in control and is not; or maybe, it cannot.
It wants to be with you on more than one level.
It sits softly down beside you. It whispers, “Sweetness.”
This poem looks forward to you
like a three-day weekend.
Like a warm bed on a Sunday morning.
Like glazed sugar donuts and chocolate milk.
à la mode
The mathematics of ice cream are never exact,
And for most of us, not easily grasped.
Like ∏, which undefined, still describes a circle,
Each scoop is perfect and unknowable.
Of course, we have machines that tell us temperature.
But none exist that calculate the velocity of flavor,
The atomic weight of preference, or the melting point of slurp.
None come even close to understanding.
Only slightly less obtuse, the dairy arts resist approach.
There are no poems of vanilla consequence,
No Butterscotch Fugue in D,
No chapel ceiling paintings of pistachio’s fall from grace.
Even language seldom offers more description
Than mumbled monosyllables of smothered “brr” or “yum.”
Of ice cream we know nothing.
But the cone, ah!
The brown, baked, hard, waffle-grid.
Whose volume is always ⅓∏r²h
The downward spiral
I get to the restaurant five minutes late to find her waiting halfway between the entrance and the back. I feel good and it’s good to see her.
“You look like you haven’t slept in a few days,” she says. “Are you drinking?”
“It’s good to see you too.”
“I worry about you.” The moment of tenderness is unexpected and I have to blink and look away. But instead of appreciating the gesture I get defensive.
“You’re worried about me?”
And before I can say anything else to ruin the moment, she reaches across the table, grabs the back of my head and rubs her fingers against the short hairs just above my neck.
“I wish I had the energy to take care of you.” The look on her face is so profoundly sad that I can’t decide what to feel.
I’m disappointed in a way I wasn’t prepared to be when I walked through the door.
September 1, 2008
Lessons from a five-year old
“Daddy, who was that lady you were talking to?”
“Lady? Oh, the waitress? That was the waitress, Baby.”
“You like ladies don’t you, Daddy?”
“What? Yes, I guess. Daddy likes ladies, Daddy likes most…”
“You love ladies don’t you, Daddy?”
“What? what do you…”
“I mean, you love the idea of them.”
That’s my at the time 5 year-old daughter pretty much verbatim.
October 31, 2008
Five feet, five inches
I had only ever heard her tell one lie before but it was a lie that she often repeated. I should clarify. There were probably other lies. But, this is the only one for which I had confirmation. Her lies were never actual commissions. There were no claims of I was with so-and-so at so-and-so’s house to be denied later or caught up in a web of entanglements. That was my domain. No, hers was a vague dishonesty often wrapped in a series of truthful statements. “I’ll think about it” was a favorite. Even with a pre-determined outcome, one could claim to think about it and never tell an actual lie. I digress.
I remember when we first met, and the subject of height came up, she would always answer, “Five, five.” Punctuating the second five, its resonance speaking truth to doubt while accenting the symmetry suggested by the repeated number. “Five, FIVE.”
As our relationship made the slow progression from acquaintances to lovers, slow being 4 months from April to August, it is surprising how often this question came up.
Casually in conversation
“You’re what, about five, four?”
At the doctor’s office
In mock debate
“You’re five, five like I’m six feet.”
“Then you’re six feet.”
I measured her once. The result was five feet, three and three quarter inches, fully one inch less than her claim. And though this discussion may seem frivolous it is actually the perfect microcosm of what our relationship was to become. In many ways, both figurative and literal, we were just over one inch away.
I write this without triumph. This measurement was merely the first in a series of selfish mistakes; a perfect symbol. In fact, taking that measurement may be the biggest regret I have about our relationship. In that act lay the seeds of doubt and disrespect that were sown over the next years. And inherent in the gesture are the spectrum of poor communication choices—condescension, self-righteousness, obstinacy, blame–that once invoked, can almost never be forgotten. Why did it seem so important to sully her “Five, five?” It is not an exaggeration to say that if there is anything in this life I would change, and there is a long list of candidates meriting serious reflection, giving that back to her would be near the top of the list.
Today, her default answer is “Five, four.” Not quite right, but one would forgive the slight embellishment in the interest of brevity if nothing else. “Five foot three and three quarters” is an answer that betrays desperation. She was many things, but desperate was not one of them. Still, I feel a pang of hurt when I hear that number, “Five, four” and all that it represents. The irony, of course, is that she has probably long forgotten the declarations, the measurement, the redefinitions. I hate hearing the question or hearing the answer or reading or thinking about height. It’s a reminder to me of my failure to recognize, sometimes at the most crucial moments, what is important and what just feels that way, however intensely. The short-term glow of being right traded violently against the long-term bask of mutual benefit. I don’t ever lie about how tall I am anymore, and I can’t even say her name. And these two facts are inextricably related.