Departures: Sixty Two Lovers

            If I have to suffer, it may as well be
            at your hands, your pretty hands.


“It’s been an hour and she has not come back.
I sit and knock ashes on the red tiles
and sip my beer.  A hunched man in black
veers by our table with a skullish smile.”

“His oyster!  I’d rather be his Venus.
Oh, what I’d become if he’d once
ask my name before he bared his penis.
Men want our souls and yet they call us ‘cunts.’”


“I am not usually thought an icon
of love, am lovely, bright, cheerful when dressed.
Naked, I can be turned off, and on.
You asked me why men are distressed.”

“When all I want to do is read my book,
she splits herself into three whores
who lounge nude and beg me to look
as they stroke themselves.  What a bore.”


“Patience is the art of wondering where,
without growing bored by the jeu de carte.
You lose regardless of how he got there—
Jack Spade upon the Two of Hearts.”

“The odd sunny day was her only defense.
Before my black umbrella kept off her
the precipitation of another man’s absence
she walked the streets soaked in wet fur.”


“Under the curse of the bow-eyed cat,
flesh stiffens and curls like dirty hair.
She tells me she likes me like that,
her claws ripping through my underwear.”

“I took the fruit from his extended fang,
bit the side opposite the punctures.
Nothing.  Turned it, tasted his venom’s tang,
which brought us to this fatal juncture.”


“God laughs at sex, at man’s awkwardness
when he has it—the flopping of skins,
the keening, the wetness, the vacuum of blessedness
sucking life through the black hole of sin.”

“The open-bodice-loving Cretans had more
inspiration in their daily lives.
Soon men learned that binding and torture
make for more practical, tractable wives.”


“Uninvited in a house of guests, we
stole into a bedroom; me, breathing in his ear,
the eager spouse; him, fucking me
when they came, orgasming with fear.”

“People do double takes when they see
two masks of orange hair with four
green eyes.  Is that why she loves me,
or why I don’t love her anymore?”


“Six years of filling his cabinets with thank
yous to thanks for thank yous for business
they give him, as though he owned a bank,
these bare walls and faded carpets.  This dress.”

“Acquisition measured against energy spent,
she profitably seduced me, and many others.
She wears a wig made of hairy serpents,
trophies she’s taken from her lovers.”


“Because I don’t complain, he captures
our smiles in pigment, erasing a spring day.
His eyes blink their possessive rapture,
while the child wants to run and play.”

“A piano lid propped on the half-stick,
the bathroom door is open.  There,
she does herself with a tube of lipstick—
cherries arranged on a cane-bottom chair.”


“The long tables are laid with white sheets,
but only I’ve been served—an empty plate,
winebottle, and goblet.  Alone in a room that seats
five billion, I wonder why she is late.”

“Because, he said, of love, he hadn’t acted.
So I was coarser of feeling to seduce
him?  Me, so young at eighteen, attracted
by his eyes, he remembers now as loose.”


“I’ve been accounted as one on a shopping list.
I’ve been cut by the slow opening of an eye.
I’ve been struck down by the lifting of a wrist.
I’ve been silenced by the report of my own lie.”

“The light is like the squeezings of dirty sponges.
My husband pats her thigh beneath the table—
the boss’s Boss, who cackles at me and lunges
for my crystal, knocking it back while she’s able.”


“In our marriage, the act of love was played
on darkened, spotlit stages, creating the effect
of passage of ages; dioramas portrayed
Fidelity, Obedience, Responsibility, and Respect.”

“The bride and her golden-armored man haunt
their neglected garden.  The girl prays.
If we had flesh, voices, we’d taunt
her meager dreams and choke her idle ways.”


“She’s cracked.  Calls me her birdcage.
When I speak she tries to feed my heart.
‘Budgie!’ she’ll whisper, tapping my ribcage,
‘Why so noisy?  You give me such a start!’”

“My hands are white and hard as stone
in my lap where God made them.
After he promised to leave me alone,
he mined my body, he stole its gem.”


“She understands work, and leaves me free
to do what she doesn’t like without complaint.
She cares for my paintings as she cares for me,
as though she sees them through a film of paint.”

“Twenty years and nothing left but food,
slight or pompous conversation, the lewd pet
or kiss that leads to sex, fast, ludicrously rude.
I once thought he’d want to paint my portrait.”


“His agony was in his forced descent
from a soft cross innocent of sacrifice.
I sat shrouded, inventing a sacrament.
fingers thrummed the counterpane like dice.”

“All day I hum the hum of the assembly line
and scream its screams.  Each night I drink
a six of beer before the glass of wine
no matter what the wife or kids think.”


“Men are larger than the lives they lead.
Amnesiac kings, they glare disdainfully
as they haggle the price of hogs’ feed;
keep noses clean rooting in a gully.”

“The descendents of princes are always fools,
bred brainless as totems at the tops of poles.
Marriage transforms them into useful tools,
voodoo dolls, receptacles for others’ souls.”


“I feel like a blank page in his notebook,
sitting on his sofa, flanked by animal skins,
blown fruit, and wallpaper that looks
like the block pattern of original sin.”

“My mother used to wait like that;
perched on a stood outside the studio,
hands clenched in her lap.  For hours, she sat
while I banged away at the damned piano.”


“He said the erotic and aesthetic were the same
eye, likening the idea to visiting a museum.
When total strangers embraced my trembling frame
I saw my love for him erased by a delirium.”

“She said I bartered her for another’s body,
and all my rationale was an artful lie.
She said she felt reduced to a heaving nobody
and in the future we should cheat on the sly.”


“Her eye is mouth of mind whose lip is lid.
Her look of love is a pin in a boutonniere.
Her face confesses, without being candid.
What, if not her face, have I to fear?”

“A shattered rock teeters on a summit of sand
in which he digs for chimney-worthy stones.
I climb up to the rock with bleeding hands
to find beside it a mound of human bones.”


“What a damned nuisance!  A sickly stray,
matted, limping, ridden with fleas probably.
The children will believe it ran away
if I put it out of misery.”

“Before I found him twisting the cat’s neck,
it was my joy to take his drink to the basement,
to chat idly, kiss him, be at his beck
and call as he made toys or home improvements.”


“She said green cats had bred in our bed,
crystal roaches infested our shower stall.
She crawled into the closet with her head
wrapped in her grandmother’s wedding shawl.”

“The neon across the street is emerald;
I didn’t know they called them silverfish;
I read somewhere that lice can leave you bald;
my wearing this was Granny’s final wish.”


“In spite of the child’s howls and blood
everywhere, she raises her arm once more;
the belt buckle whistles, then the thud.
The angel’s arrows scatter across the floor.”

“My husband holds me when we go to bed.
His kiss forgives the silence in the house.
He hadn’t planned on this when we were wed.
Yet, I have been a loving, a loving spouse.”


“All I want is for us to sit and talk,
discuss the bringing up of our child,
when the leaves turn, to take a walk.
Yesterday, I invited him.  He smiled.”

“My hands are both broken at the wrists.
My elbows will never again be straight.
I hold the leaf tightly, watch it twist
and turn its stem until it is too late.”


“The child entangled and the heart rate
gone to half for much too long,
They took steel forceps to decide her fate.
God knows they chose wrong.”

“She dances in dresses delightfully tight
and black satin shoes with stiletto heels.
She tells me that dancing takes all the fight
out of her.  I know how she feels.”


“Oh, immense.  Immense.  Oh, immense,
the lawn between our two green trees;
uncut by mower, unbounded by fence,
a flowerless desert for the honeybees.”

“Twice tonight, he’s interrupted my reading
to speak of his memories of our only son.
A word in a tear, magnified, bleeding,
melts into another and begins to run.”


“Rain darkened the steps of the old cathedral.
I shouted to her the name of our only son
and pointed out the line of his imaginary fall,
willing to suffer that, to have had one.”

“He said the name he knew would make me sad.
I felt something in me open and close.
I said, ‘By our selves we have been had.
Three is only the sum of two egos.’”


“We count the living dead by process
of elimination.  It doesn’t take long.
We are only an accumulation of losses,
like wrinkled flesh or silence in song.”

“The leaves have turned to brushstrokes in air.
But just as death, with death, becomes diseased,
she said to me that she could not longer care,
and no longer help me with the leaves.”


“Our bed shakes in the late slant light
of October.  Between back-breaking chores—
raking leaves, polishing silver bright—
we find what each in each still adores.”

“One of our rooms has only opposing walls.
It contains a shape of light and time,
both withholding arrival.  There stalls
our intercourse before its final rhyme.”


“I play my guitar while she lies dreaming
the fevers that shake her waking hours,
which have deprived her old age of meaning,
her beauty’s ghost of her persuasive powers.”

“Each Sunday his memory is an angel begging
to kiss plump breast and naked thighs.
In church I’ll sit humbly with my King,
while he knees, gnawing on his sighs.”


“I got sick and he takes care of me.
That’s a first.  Jesus, he hits the booze.
Picking up after me makes him angry.
I’ll stay sick.  I’ve got nothing to lose.”

“It was the tinny cup when I was a toddler,
beers in the back seat when I was twenty.
At forty, wine made me a connoisseur.
Now rum is my only joy and I need plenty.”


“God will forgive if I affix this past
to the portrait I find wanting in the mirror:
the mother is in the baby’s arms at last!
Her wrists are stamped with a serial number.”

“It took some doing but I got the old
Grandfather clock down upon the bed.
Its works and pendulum clanged, poor cuckold.
Let him dream of her flesh when I’m dead.”


“What’s now ashen corpses, once an egg—
my life—wasn’t it his for the taking?
Our hatred and anger made me Mad Meg.
But is this burning world her baking?”

“I held a sword and heard the demon scream,
but cut her heart thrusting to cut her free.
See what I’ve done with all my youthful dream—
that man has nailed himself to a tree.”