I’d like to take back my not saying to you
those things that, out of politeness, or caution,
I kept to myself. And, if I may —
though this might perhaps stretch the rules —I’d like
to take back your not saying some of the things
that you never said, like “I love you” and “Won’t you
come home with me,” or telling me, which
you in fact never did, perhaps in the newly
refurbished café at the Vancouver Art
Gallery as fresh drops of the downpour from which
we’d sought shelter glinted in your hair like jewels,
or windshields of cars as seen from a plane
that has just taken off or is just coming in
for a landing, when the sun is at just the right angle,
that try as you might, you could not imagine
a life without me. The passionate spark
that would have flared up in your eye as you said this —
if you had said this —I dream of it often.
I won’t take those back, those dreams, though I would,
if I could, take back your not kissing me, openly,
extravagantly, not caring who saw,
or those looks of anonymous animal longing
you’d throw everyone else in the room. I’d like
to retract my retracting, just before I grabbed you,
my grabbing you on the steps of the New York
Public Library (our failure to visit
which I would also like to recall)
and shouting for all to hear, “You, you
and only you!” Yes, I’d like to take back
my not frightening the pigeons that day with my wild
protestations of uncontrolled love, my not scaring
them off into orbit, frantic and mad,
even as I now sit alone, frantic and mad,
racing to unread the book of our love
before you can finish unwriting it.
Years from now he’ll remember the months he spent
trying to unlock a lock of her hair
and how, when she kissed him, he felt like a poem
being translated from one language into another.
Some days I am a machine gun
of apologies and gratitude,
an automatic weapon of regret
and sincerity and when the smoke
clears in the firing range
of our kitchen, your ears
ringing with vows
that it will never happen
again, I am the sound
of a hammer chattering
against the hollow
chamber of my promise.
I am every calibered casing
marked I’m sorry, forgive me,
I didn’t mean it.
Every brass thimble
of thank you and thank you
and thank you, scattered
on the tile floor where we hold
each other, swear nothing
has changed, and kiss
cartridges into the empty
magazines of our mouths.
Triolet for Carol
So many things that still feel new
are old, and that’s the way it goes.
This is what always happens to
so many things that still feel new.
I think of how I have loved you
all these years and that just shows
so many things that still feel new
feel new because of the life we chose.
John L. Stanizzi
from Rattle 43
I had seen them in the tree,
and heard they mate for life,
so I hung a bird feeder
By the third day,
sparrows and purple finches
hovered and jockeyed
like a swarm of bees
fighting over one flower.
So I hung another feeder,
but the squabbling continued
and the seed spilled
like a shower
of tiny meteors
onto the ground
and blue jays,
annoyed at the world,
except the mourning doves,
who ambled around
like plump old women
poking for the firmest
head of lettuce.
Then early one evening
the only ones—
on the periphery
of the small galaxy of seed;
among the nuggets,
one seed at a time,
carried it to her,
placed it in her beak;
she, head tilted,
Then they fluffed,
did it all over again.
And filled with love,
I phoned to tell you,
over and over,
about each time
We’d had a yard full of yarrow,
a house full of hyssop,
and then we had them no more.
We’d lined boxes with comfrey,
dressed windows with woodruff;
and then we redressed them for war.
Jasmine, we ran to the rooftop,
while roses restrained us in jail.
Your eyes—I covered with petals.
You’d been sage and bay and catnip, too.
I, horehound, lovage, feverfew—
till autumn laid waste to our vows.
Then snow had to fall;
and fall it did;
and break it did
Skylarks in January
None since October,
and now there are four
calling across the clouds,
still dragging a grey hawser
that ends in the sea
after weeks in the links
while the waves poured thunder.
It’s an early release
of that high, blinding obsession
with the sun’s glare
to make every hill disappear
through the eye of a song
when all love wants—
there in the heather—is a nest,
a few stray notes,
a closer look at that crest.
years of anger following
hours that float idly down —
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes —
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there —
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
Mother’s Day Omen
Come, love, undress me anyway,
let your fingers fly
to my ruddy buttons,
my lips to your opened
underworld. The children,
cocooned in beds,
are dreaming of turtles
in iron canyons. The cat can watch
for all I care, here,
in the living room, where propped
pillows and candle glint
conjure palaces. Imagine
ruling my empire of thighs, laying
siege to my sunken tombs.
On my knees, with you
behind, the gold brocade
of your dead aunt’s rug
embeds its fleur across my brow.
We both know I don’t deserve it —
dust conspires on the mantle,
a lost peach grows green fur
in the fridge’s hoary crypt.
But, listen, love,
love me anyway.
You see those shimmering dots
peering through the snot-smudged windows?
They could be eyes
of the dog I saw yesterday:
coyote mama driven down
from the bull-dozed hills.
She was lost, zig-zagging
the streets, her swollen teats
jiggling nervously towards traffic.
And the mailman and I
stood there, dumbstruck,
passing envelopes between us.
Not caring, not wanting to know
whatever bad news it was
she was trying to deliver.
We remember the rabbit when we see the duck, but we cannot experience both at the same time. —E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion
What do you remember? When I looked at
his streaky glasses, I wanted
to leave him. And before that? He stole those
cherries for me at midnight. We were walking
in the rain and I loved him.
And before that? I saw him coming
toward me that time at the picnic,
But you loved him? He sat in his room with
the shades drawn, brooding. But you
loved him? He gave me
a photo of himself at sixteen, diving
from the pier. It was summer. His arms
outstretched. And before that?
His mother was combing his soft curls
with her fingers and crying. Crying.
Is that what he said? He put on the straw hat
and raced me to the barn. What did he
tell you? Here’s the dried rose, brown
as tobacco. Here’s the letter that I tore
and pasted. The book of blank pages
with the velvet cover. But do you still
love him? When I rub the nap
backwards, the colors lift,
bristle. What do you mean?
Sometimes, when I’m all alone,
I find myself stroking it.
from The Past Keeps Changing, The Sheep Meadow Press, 1992.
The Wrong Ones
There are those who make us sad,
maybe not at first; maybe at first
we love them and have been waiting
to love them all our lives, but maybe
they’re really only second chances
to love those we had neglected
to love before—our mothers
and lovers, fathers and strangers—
and maybe we were right
not to love them the first time;
maybe our love was holding out
for a world of its own choosing
and those who make us sad now
make us sad because we’re loving
the wrong ones, the ones we’d hoped
would grow smaller as we walked away
instead of showing themselves again
in those we have failed to love anew.
like figures in a Mayan frieze
the borders hem us in
I can’t tell where you leave off
and I begin
I eat to satisfy your hunger
you drink to quench my thirst
your slightest wound marks my skin
with tiny blue blossoms
let me take your troubles
and turn them into swallows
that circle round the chimney
and blend into the night.
To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death
In today’s paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment
made me ache to call you—the only person I know
who’d still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-
absorption. We’d laugh (at what haven’t we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can’t call,
because I don’t know what became of you.
—After sixty years, with no explanation, you’re suddenly
not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid
you might be dead. But you’re not dead.
You’ve left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on “respecting your privacy.” I located
your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you’re alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.
What’s happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you’ve done? Something I’ve done?
We used to tell each other everything: our automaticZ
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,
and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other “Happy Birthday” every birthday?
(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)
How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude—the easy
unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.
This mysterious silence isn’t kind. It keeps me
up at night, bewildered, at some “stage “of grief.
Would your actual death be easier to bear?
I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. “When one’s friends hate each other,”
Pound wrote near the end of his life, “how can there be
peace in the world?” We loved each other. Why why why
am I dead to you?
Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less
I understand this world,
and the people in it.
She uses the apartment keys
to let herself in from the neighbors.
I am unnerved, maybe from drinking.
I know it will take all
the last of my strength to get through
the bath hour, reading Babar,
the talk of hair, how and if we will braid it,
tomorrow’s homework review—
I am really in a poem I say, cutting
lines together, images, this poem
I am always aiming at, pulling the sheet over
the day’s trial, pulling browned buds
from the night flower (didn’t give it enough
water this winter – it might not bloom
this spring). Brushing out
my daughter’s fine hair over her
wide forehead, caressing it, I put
another story together; she says
in eight-year-old-directness, “You threw him out
didn’t you?” This is the moment
I gather the lines, the poem, the raw
tendrils, watered or not, snapped in urgency
(the night flower has such a pungent smell).
“He wasn’t with me anymore sweetie,
he slept on the couch in the living room,
that’s not being together.” She weighs this,
the poem, in fragments, may never get written.
We are managing this – I am calm, I am on
other territory, a kitchen of plenty,
school problems solved, pencils sharpened,
the lesson memorized. “Did I do it right?”
she asks of the math review, I am calculating the lesson—
Motherhood, this sudden test. Unprepared,
untutored I am telling her the grade isn’t important,
it’s what you learn, what you can take with you.
A Sincere Thank You
You always had a good heart.
I’m seeing someone else, of course.
She’s not your type at all.
charming of apartments on the west side,
isolated enough, with the woods nearby,
and the stream; wouldn’t even know you’re
in the city but just a quick drive to the
stores and restaurants. And your gift
came in useful, what with a new place
looking bare until our furniture arrived
from various homes and storage facilities.
was the only thing here that wasn’t Amy and I.
Now, the rooms are chockablock with two lifetimes
of accumulation. Your offering is somewhere in the
midst of all these electric can-openers, toaster
But still appreciated. If I could only remember
what it was … is, I mean.
After all we’ve been through together
you still take the time to reward, in your own way,
all we’ll be doing apart.
To spend good money, to mail it to my old address …
luckily it was forwarded … knowing that
either you or I probably broke one just like it
those days when smashing stuff against the wall
was our way of communicating.
Really, this new thingamabob reminds me|
of the old doohickey and you can’t ask
for anything more than that.