How do I put this kindly? I like to be left alone.
Scratch like, replace with need. Not because
I adore you or this world any less than entirely, but
because sometimes the only way I can find peace
is 9 o’clock on a Saturday evening, door left ajar,
the moon resembling a half-eaten rotten apple
hanging in a starless sky. I feel magically
insignificant in the stillness of this moment.
Like anything can happen, maybe even poetry.
Through the window and across the street,
a human figure leans against a kitchen wall,
balancing phone between tilted head and shoulder.
Man or woman, it hardly matters. And outside
this bedroom door, familiar voices wax and wane,
lilting conversation between brothers and friends.
I am a distant planet that cannot discern what
is being said, what universe they’re in, what is
being debated and spun around and laughed about.
It is not that I do not love them. I do. But tonight
I am keeping company with a world of my own
invention: an empty bed, a strange-faced moon,
the anonymous neighbor, the mind at work.
And poetry might not arrive tonight, but at least
I gave it permission. I open my heart to silence.
Come in. I’ve made space for you.
Fill my world, why don’t you?
requires no great pilgrimage
nor any red-eye flight to book.
Upon arrival, there may not even
be an altar on which to offer
what is owed. Holy ground
is wherever you leave your love.
So every public bathroom stall within
which I have grieved into my hands.
A certain Catholic church basement,
still haunted by the sweaty magic of old
friends long gone, the dark wooded backroads
of my native Virginia, the humid shoebox room
I occupied my first year apart from childhood,
grimy twin XL and cobwebbed window panes.
Holy ground is wherever love finds you again.
The back stairwell of the dilapidated classroom
building we accidentally followed last February.
The bus stop where I first kissed you, feeling
it was right. And now, these short walks home
after the sun has set and I, drunk on the peace
of easy evenings, still feeling as right as the first
night I felt it. Holy ground, these moonlit paths
I walk alone, wordless, basking in starry stillness,
this sacred earth something we now share.
You are the byproduct of your great great great and maybe
even greater grandparents’ first kiss. In the equation of history
you are the long-awaited answer. You transcend all laws
of mathematics. Their history bent you into existence.
Consider it for a moment. You are only here because
one man saw, from across a train platform or mossy field
or crowded ballroom, a strange beauty with a flicker
lodged in her eye. Don’t mind if I catch it, he told himself,
and he did. The possibility of you— conceived in the rash decision
of a moment. Now you have her eyes, same unusual twinkle,
the fruit of the great pursuit. Yes, you were born before your mother
dedicated your body to earth. You were born, instead, in the instant
of the first chase, the swift clutch of a hand, the rush of blood to the face.
Think. If not for the speeding train. The field. The ballroom and the girl,
still a stranger, the mumbled-under-breath Don’t mind if I catch it.
Then— the universe caught you. Forever the echo.
Forever the beginning, you have always been.
is my kind of world.
Hardly matters if a surprise downpour decides
to grace my walk home. I’ll face the sky’s burden
with wet clothes clinging to small frame. If I run
out of words to write, books to read, candles to
ignite and sit by, if I wake up one day and cannot
locate the face of a girl once young and incinerating
with the promise of potential, if I burn the batch
of whatever bakes in the back corner kitchen
of my mind, if all the mighty doors of opportunity
I try to knock down come ricocheting back in my face,
if I arrive home bruised and battered from having
misplaced my heart, if some days feel more like
the freak accidents of existence and less like
the first days of warmth after a frozen season,
a world with you in it is still
my kind of world.
I’ll weather any storm to meet you there,
right there, at the collapse of it all.
Sometimes helicopters fall with fathers and daughters still inside of them. And at the same time there’s some sort of virus hanging in the air making fear point its ugly finger. Who is responsible for this? What wretched nation, what sick corner of the world? There must be someone tampering with the wires. And while we’re at it, what sort of madness causes a continent to burn itself dry? It doesn’t just happen. Something always instigates. We mumble words like power and influence and annihilate the enemy the same way trembling mothers mumble desperate prayers under war-torn skies. A child who has never known love considers the trajectory of something illegal hidden under an overcoat. No one yet knows how many hearts he’ll break today. Down the street a young ballerina refuses dinner for the fourth time this week to feel pretty under stage lights. She imagines how beautifully she’ll glow tomorrow by turning down another slice of fruit tonight. And somewhere in a city I’ve never been, someone called Dad stands with sunken shoulders at the cash register of truth. His pockets are empty. Tonight the children will feast on hope alone. Still, none of them will ever see him cry.
Who is responsible for this? Could it be fate? Reason?
For my own sanity I choose to believe it is not all tragedy. There is still the inevitability of springtime in world as broken as ours. Someone will spare bread to the children, those rail-thin dreamers raised on street wishes. Someone standing with one foot already off the bridge begging destiny for a sign— just one—will see it, from the opposite side of the bay, some sort of green-light savior. A bird taking flight. A vision of Jesus. A memory of a first love. They will inhale the stuff of life and swing their shaking knees back over the safety rail. Life will continue, just like that. Just like morning comes. Just like night falls. There will always be someone, hunched over while the world sleeps peacefully, untangling the wires.
It is hard living on the edges of things. Try building a home on the precipice of a cliff. Tell me you wouldn’t live in constant fear of a sudden tectonic shift. I have learned that, when the body needs to be held, it makes a big deal of making sure the need is known. The body demands the security of a tender touch. Perhaps this is why, trembling outside your front door this morning, I felt my heart pounding straight through every insulated layer of my winter coat. I swore the buttons would snap, that my insides would spill out all over your steps, my pathetic need collecting in human puddles at your feet. I have learned that, when the heart needs to be tended to, it cannot stop itself from screaming. It is true; the heart never grows up. It is born young and stays young, a perpetual infant forever in need of being held to another chest. The heart cannot live at the edge of love. It is driven to madness by the need to be pursued. This is why, when you finally opened the door, my heart pacified. As if it knew yours would steady mine— no shifting, no need to scream, no cliffhanger required— just you and yours and me and mine. Try building a home in someone else’s heart. Tell me you wouldn’t live a little easier.
That smile— when it’s almost midnight
and our best friends are belting in the backseat
our bodies full of greasy pizza and hysterics
when it’s a Saturday night and we’re as young
as the first day of a new season and we’re
the closest to comfort we’ve been in days,
I see it plastered on your face— that smile,
as if it never left. So I shut my eyes to save it,
just like that. My heart could fill a gallery,
a whole museum, of all the ones I’ve kept.