Thursday, January 27, 2011


I found your letter the other day,
stuffed in the box where we kept the wedding stuff
and old tax forms,
the things we group together,
the things that are deemed important and must not be lost.

There it was,
typed out like a little book of secrets.

It was old, from the first time I moved to this city,
when the streets were still too narrow
and the people too wide. When I felt each day
they were eating me alive.

Something had me in its mouth and was chewing.

You told me it’s okay to stop writing.
That it’s okay to stop taking ourselves so seriously.
You told me about the pure joy of domesticity,
a meal well made, a curtain sewn by hand.
You talked about the beauty of women’s work,
craft, and how we all had it wrong back in college
when we tried to be like men.
Tried to write the way men write.

I read your letter twice.
Then I stood at the window,
watching the snow coming down again and I cried
because you left and I never knew why.
Because the space you occupied was real inside me
and since then nothing has ever felt real again.

And it’s stayed that way,
when I see my friends now, I watch them talk and think
someday they will leave too. Like you did. They will just be gone.

We stood together in the woods, by the river when
you were married,
and I read your vows, helped to usher you into this strange new life,
not realizing that when you walked through that gate,
you wouldn’t come back.

Not fully. Not to me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How the Family Happened

There is no What Happened?
Like a question.
There is only Happened.
Like a series of facts.

It went like this:
There was a woman and a man
who became a mother and a father.
And then they weren’t.
Just like that.

And they had a girl who
was a daughter and then she wasn’t.

The not mother went away
and the not father went away
and the not daughter waited and waited.

This is the past and everything there is still
and two dimensional. It cannot change its stillness.
There will always be leaves on the trees
because this is July. These people are not people
they are pictures of people. Small cardboard cutouts
that no matter what they do they always follow the same path.
They cannot change it. That is the past.
For instance,
there will always be the not father getting into the car to leave.

And there will always be the moment
after the birth
when the girl who is not a daughter is taken from the hands
of the woman who is now, rendered, not a mother
with her not a mother milk in her breasts.
Later, not much but still, later
the man and the woman
who are no longer father and mother
will come back together to be husband and wife

and that is what the girl who is now
someone else’s daughter
will never forget.

They moved on,
without her.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pen Pal

I think you have a pen pal, he says,
when I get back in from the cold.
McCartney still singing through my headphones.

And he holds up the letter.
Another little card.

She tells me she plays flute too. Not just piano.
And about all the snow they got in Connecticut.
She thinks being a librarian is the coolest.
She tells me when her birthday is, as if I didn’t know.

I read it twice. Then I give it to my husband to read.
For a second I wonder if I’ll ever see her
before I remember the fine act of patience
my hopes like stones I have been laying each day
a path back to the sea
and how long it took to get here
these long ten years.
This time I don’t think about the dead,
except that I was close to her age when I got my first letter from her mother.
I still have it, that awkward introduction.
No, today is not for the dead, instead I think about the living girl

in her house, which I have never seen.
I picture her up in her room,
her posters,
her swimming medals,
the things she keeps on her dresser,
nail polish, the case for her glasses,
maybe a picture of her dog that died,
the drawer she keeps these cards in,
if she leaves her clothes on the floor like I still do,
her voice, high and clear, when she yells, “Coming”
because her parents called
and dinner is on the table.

Friday, January 21, 2011


The dead do not occupy the space of our kid fears.
They are not in the dark woods,
or the abandoned house.
They are not in the murky and inky sea.

They do no leave us on battlefields,
or street corners
or on beaches.

That is where the living are.
The dead,
leave us in clean places.
Neatly stitched lines of tiny flowers
on the stiff fabric of couches
and the cool metal of hardback chairs.

They are here in this room where the air is pumped in,
under the slick shine of a casket reflecting soft light.
In the plush perfectly vacuumed carpeting.
Neat lines.
No lint.
Hushed voices.

The dead become another object in this room.

It is here that you feel the heat of your own skin
flushed and pumping,
the quiver of the heart in that stillness.
It is now that you feel the nerve of your existence
against all these unsoiled lines.

It is in these sanitary starched places that the dead,
pass through that gate and leave us
and we sit, stupidly
and we watch
and we wait.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Car Accident, 1995

Yes there was the scraping of metal
against asphalt
and the heavy low thunk of the Ford
lilting and tipping no longer bound to gravity
and then dropping with the combined weight
of all of our teenage futures,
but in stories I make it sound like it took so long

when in fact, it didn’t.
The car was turned over in a fraction of a second,
sooner than any of us even had time to think about

and in reality I turned my head
to see my first love,
twisted and hanging,
limp against his seatbelt
his long hair over his face,


and I thought how young he looked.
How young we all are.
How young and bent and over.

Then I crawled on all fours out the busted window
like a sinner
away from the wreckage before anyone could speak.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walking to the Lake

You said there was a giant tortoise in the lake at the bottom of the hill
and when we walked down there I use to peer over your head

just to see if I could see something
anything that might be close to what you said you saw.

I waited to see the round mottled shell crest the water,
like a prehistoric thing from another time. I wanted it so badly.

How was it you got to see? Always you.

Our mothers wrung their hands
watch the road, they said, their voices high and tight.

Other children had been killed there, on that
slick wet pavement down by the lake.

We stole someone’s boat. I know that now, but then
it belonged to us, to everyone in fact. We just chose to take it.

The oars dipping into the water, the boat turning round and round,
my eyes desperate to see a fin, a hooked beak, to find the creature.

Instead, we will find your dead dog on that same stretch.
After that, my father will be pulled over,

troubled by the cop for his accent, accused of drinking.
He will speak softly and politely, eyes wet and averted.

I will not see the turtle, not when I got my license,
nor on my wedding day,
nor on the way home from your father’s funeral.

But I will keep looking, even after we have separated,
like kids do, racing home, in the last seconds of light,
not looking back. Not once.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Real, right now

The size of the kitchen grows and shrinks
attempting to fit us,
and all our new expectations.

I want to cook together,
you told me,
after an argument.
It was supposed to be a way to find
each other
after thirteen years.
I want to cook together, you said. Something new.
At first I was surprised,

and then I thought about the home,
how sad it could be,
carved by the hands of the last to leave,
the dust on the floorboards,
the books not put away,
the bed unmade,
space unoccupied.

And I understood the need to make something,
to be in this room,
the gentle tap of the knife on the cutting board,
the hiss from the oven when the sauce
boils over onto the coils.
The music of making,
a dance of making.
This could be the beginning of happiness.

To create, in each space,
and then to fill that space,
with flowers and books
the newspaper left on the floor.
objects to prove I am there,
I am still alive for now,
in this moment and it might all work out.
My disappointment shifted towards the dark.
Hope like a switch I can flick
late at night,
moving from room to room
and know it is all real.
Right now. If nothing else, there was this life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Art of Letter Writing

There is still letter writing.
There is still the moment he enters the room,
his hand behind his back and says, “I’ve got something for you,”
a wide, nearly giddy, smile on his face,
and he gives it to me,
and I want to devour it,
her wide young script,
still so young,
and the stamp,
the seal of the envelope,
the way the paper splits,
around her return address
the card,
the smudged ink of her thank you,
her hope to see me sometime.

There is nothing like this.
And there is no way to talk about
how I know her, how I knew her mother,
but there is still this artifact,
that I tuck in my drawer, with the others

and think, immediacy is overrated.
Nothing beats waiting for it,
opening the tiny door of my mailbox,
like a door into her world,
and seeing that letter laying there.
Waiting after its long journey from her home to mine.

We haven’t lost that yet
in this world that we are changing too fast.
Soon maybe, in my lifetime,
but not yet,
like a piano solo, the soft depression
and release of keys,
the pen to paper,
the journey,
the proof.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pillow Talk

He’s telling me about his grandparents,
the ones on Denny Street in Lawrenceville,
how he used to go over there all the time
and how close he was to his grandmother.

I know this. I’ve heard and seen it. Seen it
on the mornings of the anniversary of her death and birth.
But watching him here, now,
laying in bed, over wine, after sex,

I think that it must be nice.
It must be nice to be able to stir up that emotion.

I think of my grandfather,
who died when I was six.

Things I remember:
his smell.
Now, I know it was beer, but then it was
just the scent of the only other man that came to our house.
That he ate mayonnaise sandwiches
and my mother wouldn’t let me have one

and that he wasn’t going to see my kindergarten music show,
so I sat on the floor of my kitchen,
drumsticks in hand
and I sang at the top of my lungs, about Indians and the Old West,
and I did the pussywillow rhyme,
and beat the sticks in rhythm on the
cheap linoleum of my parents kitchen,
knowing it sounded better with the whole class on the hardwood of the stage.

There will be the things I find out after,
the cruelties that family can do to each other,
his sickness,

but that is not the same, that is someone else’s telling.
These few moments,
these are the things that belong to me.
It was 1982. And he would be dead by the following year,
and this will be all that I carry after that.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sort of Easy to Die

In the day to day, it seems harder
but out here, on the endless highway
that no one has plowed

miles still from home,
it seems sort of easy to die.

I watch the speedometer and then the cars
in the other lane slide into the guardrail.
I think about speed.

Just hours before we had been up in New Hampshire
for the holidays but one by one we all left.
We were last. Your brother kept talking out loud about the storm.

Now in this small space we are talking softly,
about water, which we didn’t have
and speed, we struggled to control
and snowdrifts that refused to move.
I tell you that we’ll be okay as long as there are no hills.

and I’m thinking this blizzard might be real after all.

When we get home, I will thank you for not killing us,
and we will laugh,
exhausted on the couch,
our hands still trembling from the clutching,
our hair still beaded with sweat,
the car outside an umoving thing,
rocking against the wind and snow that barrels up the street,
demanding to be heard.