Letter to A Changed Man
You used to scribble on the half-finished poems
I left strewn around the kitchen.
Sometimes I used the lines you added
or changed, beer-stained and smudged.
Did you know I’d left them
on purpose? You never said. We never
spoke of them, as we never spoke of
the invisible thread connecting us
through a house full of people.
We spoke of other things: your abandoned music,
my children. Once, dead drunk,
we tumbled into bed: you comatose,
me frantic, the whole thing an embarrassment.
After that, though we slept together,
we never made love.
Your girlfriend traipsed through my house
and your dog shat on my stairwell.
You gave me strength at odd moments
without knowing you did.
Years later we met in bars and embraced.
Once you had to carry me home.
Fragments of friendship too flimsy perhaps
to endure. You left town without saying goodbye.
Now you’re back, a man on a mission.
You’ve seen the light, you’re spreading the word:
you use such phrases. You cry when sober.
You call yourself a changed man.
There are some people we love unconditionally.
I loved you when you envied my creativity,
when your girlfriend stomped through my house
and when you were too drunk to see
or too sober to feel. I loved you then as now
with a shimmering barely visible light
holding us through distance,
time, and missed opportunities.
I Wanted to Lie In Bed
I wanted to lie in bed and tickle his toes.
He wanted to go out for breakfast.
I wanted to listen to his childhood secrets.
He wanted to go to the jazz cafe.
I wanted to read him my poetry.
He wanted to take in a skin flick.
I would have fed him moussaka
if he’d sat still long enough
rubbed his muscles
with eucalyptus oil
lathered his hair
sculpted his face
with my hands.
Now his absence fills the room
with relief. The air expands.
The horizon of my mind
stretches in the silence like rubber.
He never raised a hand in anger
or even his voice
never asked for commitment
or demanded choices.
He respected my art
fed my cat
was patient in bed
and picked up his socks.
He just never took time
He made me feel rooted
and strong as a tree
wrapped my parched bones
in ebony silk
as if we inhabited
some other planet
it was America
on Earth 1990
where we had been taught
and believed in white lies.
we came to despise
what we loved.
I curse his virtues
celebrate his faults
read books and theories
I’ve forgotten how it felt
to sleep in his skin
and the landscape we crossed
On what should have been
your 52nd birthday
I buried your ashes
in the Rose Garden
at Golden Gate Park
beneath a flaming orange flower
These were just some of your ashes—
most having been strewn in the ocean—
and I wondered exactly what I’d buried.
A piece of your skull?
There was no way of knowing
what my secret stash contained:
shards of bones
sequestered from the others
but I was committed
to give you in death
the rootedness you craved
near the end.
Nearby bloomed a bush of pink Duets
and another of yellow Simplicity.
I replaced the damp earth around Charisma.
The name of the rose was my only concession.
The day you died
I wrote for ten hours straight.
Though my back and neck ached
and my fingers cramped
I was driven by a force
greater than life
or love: despair.
I knew if I stopped writing
I too would die and
though I wanted this
your spirit seized me
by the hair
and forced me to stay
alive at my desk.
The rose bush
where I buried your ashes
has twice bloomed and faded.
I pass it daily
on my way to the cafe
where I write
for an hour
Three years later I am still getting tested.
Six months, say the clinicians.
Eighteen years, a counselor friend told me.
When I tested negative
a month after you died
I was dismayed.
The next time they took my blood
I was terrified, then relieved.
Now the whole thing has become
routine if not ritualistic.
When the needle pierces my skin
I remember telling you
I regret nothing. Even if I get AIDS
I will regret nothing.
Perhaps you thought me mad.
By then you were hooked
to a respirator
and never spoke again
except with your eyes.
They crinkled at the corners
when I reminded you
of the morning we clung
to one another on Broadway
as cabs rolled by and I missed my flight.
The faint bruise on my arm
is oddly reassuring.
Until I get the results
I repeat like a mantra
my resolve of
has not been tested.