I attend the ceremony
in my black dress
and serious shoes
like the grieving widows
pretending my part of that somber sorority.
Such men are heroes mourned by all
except me. The only good he ever did me
was paying the premium on that policy
and then dying of course.
The other nine widows weep.
I wish he had died a coward
as he so deserved
but you can’t have everything.
And the headlines at least
earn me sympathy
as the bruises never did.
I watch one veiled woman contemplate her ring.
Perhaps she also is wondering
she can sell it.
I hope my current life is sweet reward
for some virtuous previous soul
perhaps a kind but needy peasant
who now enjoys
my wardrobe and my kitchen
and the seat-heaters in the car.
Or perhaps an elegant woman who had neither
education nor loving marriage
and this time around
snags a master’s degree
and a sweet and handy spouse.
I worry though
that I might be punishment to a nasty evildoer
and horrid awful misery
waits for me
maybe next year
so far, so good.
He called one night
five years later
different town, different phone.
He must have put serious sober energy
into tracking me
but certainly long past abstinence
by the time he rang.
Oh how he missed me
which pleased me
as much as when the stalker called
to say he was watching me undress.
At first unnerved
I always liked that word by the way
but shouldn’t it mean the opposite
as it did for me
by the time I realized
he had already forgotten the number
and I happily
She was accosted and beaten today
By a ragged, familiar flannel shirt.
Too soon, she thought, too soon.
Regardless of the assignment or absence
Maybe in a month.
Never would be good.
She considered her alternatives.
Duck into this store.
But he could also need a wrench.
And the aisles are so narrow.
Or go back to the car.
Yes, of course, the window which she never opens
Could be opened.
Then there’s nonchalance.
How nice to see you!
Air kiss, non-contact hug.
Absolutely. I’ve been great.
Was her hair not great?
Her shoes were new.
He turned. A stranger.
She was mistaken
I have a pain. It is a fist clenching.
Only it is not a fist. It is my chest clenching.
Many parts of me reside in my chest.
Located right here, for instance, is my heart.
I’m not panicking which could be worse
But I’m not denying the fist in my chest.
I’ve had tests. Doctors have measured me
Walking and running and watching electrical lines
Like lie detectors. And pictures of echoes. All normal.
Rest Assured. So I rest. There it is again. Clenching.
I wonder how many dead people heard
Just before they stopped worrying
I cannot walk fast enough
For New York City
Businessmen run me down
Women in stilettos
To the curb
As purses and portfolios
I am one of them
The rush set
I have meetings dealings conference calls
But I cannot race
Through brownstones arches cornices
Deco balustrades bronze
Forty stories of steel
Of Grand Central
It was one-sixth
of an old Victorian
almost a mansion
near the library.
Curiously, my memory has added
a big carved bear
with black lacquered claws
guarding the front porch.
The windows rose from floor to ceiling
offering a magnificent lack of privacy
in each sun-filled room
Oh, that bear could certainly peer in nightly
with the neighbors
as they envied the chandelier.
The southern wall beckoned my spinet.
The cupboards seduced my teacups.
The breakfast nook assured me
that my typewriter would be comfortable
watching the birdfeeder
by the patio door.
And the little bedroom waited
as I did
for a baby.
I could picture it
but couldn’t pay for it.
And I wonder now
if a daughter would have slept in that narrow room.
I know for sure
while eating an orange
wedge by wedge
I would have finished my novel
in the breakfast nook.
Bear or no bear.
I’m quite certain my heart wasn’t broken.
certain though that I adored the idea.
not only of reckless love
but broken hearts.
Tragedy appearing as sweet as marriage vows
to one with neither.
When I crossed the threshold
not matrimonial – fortitudinal –
when I returned you to your mother
I wept for losing
the lover I wished you were.
It was not your fault
that my yearning refined your crude ore
into more precious if illusory metal.
sloth into liberty
self-pity into sensitivity
I accept the blame.
Your mistake was arguing
two inches from my face
I saw you.
It was a long drive home
I cried the first twenty miles.
The next ten
Halfway home I stopped by a diner
needing coffee to go
fortifying the prospect of loneliness.
And while I waited I heard a memory
the whirring and roaring of the milkshake mixer
making froth of ice cream in its big metal cup.
Hold the coffee, I said.
And I knew
my heart wasn’t broken.
I am greedy for warmth.
Born in February, born cold.
Cold hands cold feet
Cold heart, according to an old flame
I thought I had loved well.
Tom makes heat.
It seeps into my side of the bed
Comfort to my bones.
I am the moon poaching the light from his sun.
The phone rings.
Jeff’s wife, two doors down.
He’s fallen again
In the transfer from wheelchair to bed.
Tom dresses in the dark.
It’s a quiet street. In the summer he has gone over in his underwear.
But tonight it’s freezing.
He puts on the clothes he has dropped by the rocker
Not so long before.
They might still be warm.
He carries his shoes as if I were asleep.
As if he believes the pretense.
Tom is squeamish.
More than most. Just words make him swoon
Should someone say surgery
Or syringe or
Jeff has bedsores and diapers.
Tom can’t look.
He picks Jeff up, carries him to bed
Tries not to look.
Thanks, says Jeff, also not looking.
No sweat, says Tom, although he is.
The sheets are fickle.
It takes only minutes to forget him.
They grow cold.
I hear Tom’s steps on the porch.
I hear the water running.
He washes. He coughs. He washes more.
He gets back in his side of the bed.
I have no warmth to spare for him.
Poor bastard, he says.
I didn’t pray for it
though I didn’t pray against it either.
It certainly is not my fault.
It was influenza after all
not any rosary recited
or neglected at the critical hour.
One Ave never sung
one candle never lit
bears no weight
So if I married her husband
before a proper mourning
well her children needed looking after
It certainly is not my fault
if I loved my sister’s husband
before the influenza.