A poem from, roughly, 2002. Slightly revised.
Monday night bar in Union Square,
loud enough to allow for intimacy.
You have been here for hours when a co-worker
who is also the woman you’ve been seeing,
who has also been sitting across from you all this time,
rises from the table and turns toward the door.
You catch a glimpse
of a tattoo on her back,
visible between the shirt and the belt;
it stretches from hipcrest to hipcrest
as if she has sprouted
She leaves the bar,
moving away from the sound of your voice
out into the night.
You suspect she’s thinking that
though your words, like stones,
were clearly born in fire,
you have tumbled them too long between
your water heart and your earth tongue;
made them cool and gleaming and edgeless;
you took and tossed
the once-burning words at her
and it felt like hail in July.
How will she ever rise
when you keep burying her
under such a tumble
of dead things?
Inside her a stone is growing
where you once were.
She is gone,
but you drink for another hour.
On your own cab ride home,
you begin to plot a new path
toward her heart.
Your dreams burn and spin all night.
you wake at 6 AM.
There have been many things
in your life that were
seen once or many times
until they were needed —
ripple on a lakebed,
patch of wrinkled layers in old stone,
some tree gnarled into a twist waiting
until they could give meaning
to something else.
Her face last night.
You hear secret voices,
voices heard solely in the body,
in a simple trace of
transcendence – even inside
the skin and eyes
of someone you think you know.
Before now, you certainly
would not have called out to God
when thinking of her.
Now your brain slides into that way of being —
now you say, alone in your bedroom,
what you have learned:
it certainly exists,
a way of living,
a holy space
that only another body
can make real —
because you will not call it
‘being in God’,
you will call it
‘being in love’.
You have never felt like this
before work before –
ready to pray all the way up to the
By Tuesday noon
you have run back down
you’ve learned thousands
of new names for God,
crying them all
as you run from thunder,
The running itself is a kind of prayer
that she is running too
or watching this happen from elsewhere,
one hand on her mouth, tears
leaving trails in the white,
awful dust on her cheeks.
Your running is a prayer
that she can fly.
You kick over the television at 9:30 PM.
You have not spoken for hours,
staring at the phone,
waiting for it to ring, waiting.
You close all the blinds
waiting for the phone to ring, waiting.
You wish you could drink but everything tastes like suicide.
A pill forms in your hand while you wait,
wait for the phone, waiting.
A pill washes down
past the scratch and raw breath of your coughing.
A pill makes you lucid in the face of delusion
long enough to realize
that someone really is at the door, it’s your landlord, just arrived,
all the roads closed, been waiting for hours in the lines,
checking up on all of his tenants, tells you
the towers are gone,
the towers for the cell phones are gone,
no calls coming in or out, no calls,
all those hours waiting,
air filled with voices in tears,
in arrest, in thrombosis, in embolism,
with crush injuries,
burns, inhalations, rages, fevers,
blames and names and hatreds,
silences and understandings,
moments gone with
all the bodies newly torn, flung,
sundered, crushed, and cindered;
all the memories
and the bearers of the memories
waiting to get through,
hoping to reinflate,
to reanimate, to be reborn:
Wednesday, driving north from the city
before dawn toward New England
to stay with friends. It’s mid September,
nearly time for the leaves to come off the trees
in one last burst of flame.
The day looks like it is going to be perfect.
You are trying to remember yesterday morning’s dream of her,
how it felt to rest in the moment of knowing she could leave you.
You linger on one small moment of it:
the moment of not caring where she was,
as long as she was out there somewhere,
as long as she was happy.
You called it love then,
but now you know it was God.
that moment of being
without attachment to the result
was something you could call God;
a name you could hang
on the moment,
a name you’ll cling to
though it has become hard to say because
it does not include enough syllables
to describe the fact
that you didn’t bother
to bring your cell phone with you this morning,
that you did not leave
a message on hers before you left.
At a rest stop outside Waterbury
you pull over.
Maybe you fall asleep.
It isn’t important ?
what matters is that
suddenly all around you
the earth is pushing up geodes
by the thousands.
You pick one up and it cracks in your hands,
spilling oceans of ancient, limed water,
soaking your hands with salt and
the flakes of
She is suddenly there,
watching you weep,
and as she rises from the ground
she tells you:
there are more names
than any of us ever