How to Meet Meryl Streep (2005)

There are many, many things you must not do right now. But here is what you must do: stay calm. Breathe as deeply as you can, which is not very deeply at all. Your ribs are crumpling from the pressure. In case you lost consciousness for a moment, you are standing two feet away from Meryl Streep, under the suspended halves of a very large boulder belonging to her husband, Don Gummer. 

Listen to her husband speak shyly into a microphone about this installation of his; learn that it is titled Primary Separation. Consider your own primary separation: you are less than a yard away from your favorite person that you have never met, and she will never know that you risked your life squirming into two foundation garments just to be here.

Meryl Streep is friendly, engaging, lovely. Did you already say lovely? Yes, you did. It bears repeating. The master of ceremonies takes a minute to state the obvious, perhaps hoping that any gawkers will get it over with, once and for all: "Don's wife, Meryl, is a unique artist in her own right." She accepts this with low-key modesty, and the focus shifts back to her husband and his work, as it should.

Feel guilty that your focus is less shiftable. Reel at the sound of that familiar laugh, right there, right there, no soundtrack! The luck! She is a proud, delighted wife, and it is charming to see. Watch as she and her daughter snap pictures of Don with their shiny cellphones.  Wonder how many of these events they have attended. Wonder what it is like to be lovely Meryl Streep's daughter and to own such fabulous motorcycle buckle boots at such a young age. Wonder what the Streep-Gummers keep in their refrigerator, and if their pets do unspeakable things to their rugs. One of the reasons you like Meryl so much is that you can so easily imagine her swearing under her breath as she scrapes dog poo out of a braided rug. You can picture her running out for ice cream at 10pm in a hopelessly unattractive parka, or in bed with the flu, blowing her nose and laughing hysterically in her oldest flannel pajamas as she reads an article her publicist has sent her, a piece that describes her as "Hollywood royalty." 

Get a hold of yourself. Rein yourself in. Repeat your mantra: Do not do the things you must not do. Do not do the things you must not do. It's not that it is hard for you not to do these things; it's just that your brain likes to try to convince you that you have done these things. You know that your brain is lying to you, but you feel pre-humiliated nonetheless. In the short time that you have been standing here, your brain has already logged a series of very vivid images of you doing various Things You Must Not Do, like punning uncontrollably about rocks to Meryl (I'm in between a rock and a heart place, because I HEART YOU MERYL STREEP I REALLY REALLY HEART YOU) or telling her that you have the same birthday and that you have always interpreted this as a sign and that you also have a knack for the accents, particularly those of Eastern European flavor.

Put your foot down. Tell your brain if it doesn't knock it off, you will dash your skull against the Donald Gummer art rock to beat your mind into submission and you won't care who's watching. 

The official remarks have just ended, and the crowd heads across the street to the museum for a reception and a tour of some of Gummer's early work. Follow the crowd. 

Meryl follows you. Your heels are actually tingling. A fine day! A marvelous day! So far, you have not wheeled around and attempted a single rock pun. You have not confessed to anyone present that you are wearing two foundation garments. This is shaping up to be a most promising afternoon. As promised by the friend with connections, you are on the list. YOU ARE ON THE LIST. You are never on the list. This is big.

Slap a museum sticker on your muzzled bosom, which growls and tries to break free from its Spanx Tube of Death to bite you on your chin. Ignore your bosom and glide into the museum. Make a beeline for the wine. Try hard to think about art. But it is difficult for a serf to think about art in a room full of vassals, especially when one is a serf who really should be slopping the pigs or sloshing human waste out of the window of her thatched hut. So far, the vassals have not noticed you, but you are sure they will if you make the mistake of opening your mouth. Clamp your mouth shut. Press your plastic cup against your lips and think of pigs. Vassals, vassals everywhere, and so many drinks to drop on the floor.

Don Gummer's exhibition is in a narrow gallery space, and there are a lot of intelligent, tastefully dressed persons milling about sipping wine and saying intelligent, rational things to each other. These people are either being careful not to glance in Ms. Streep's direction, or they are very good at compartmentalizing and doing the thing that they are here to do, which is, simply, pondering Don Gummer's art. Envy them. Stare despondently at a family of rocks resting contentedly upon a row of steel wires. You are not a good compartmentalizer.  Everything you see and hear and know is connected to everything else. You find signs and symbols and omens and links and parallels and echoes in everything that crosses your path. You feel too much, all the time, and you are hopelessly distracted by the shooting-star stimuli: Is her bag a Birkin? If so, surely a gift? Meryl seems far too sensible to drop $5K on a white leather tote that will be impossible to keep clean.

Inside the gallery, Meryl is constantly flanked by lovely people or important-looking people or lovely-and-important-looking people. Human buffers: they do not leave her side. Good friends. Your friends would likely do the same thing. As you reach for another steamed green bean, your mother appears in a little devil suit on your right shoulder. She grabs hold of your earlobe, stuffs her head in your ear, and whispers, Remember you did that wonderful Polish accent in that Holocaust play in Portland. And don't forget that time you played the nice Manchester granny. Tell Meryl. 

Whisper, Shhhh. Offer your imaginary mother a steamed green bean to shut her up. She refuses the green bean and jabs you in the cheek with her pretend pitchfork. Go say hello. Introduce yourself. Shake your head vehemently. It would be terribly rude to barge into Meryl's inner circles, and besides, that is not what this day is about. This day is simply about the molecules. Meryl Streep Molecules are enough. It is a binary equation: yesterday, you had never been in the same room with Meryl Streep Molecules. Today, you have. This should be good enough for anyone.

Reach for a red grape, then realize that the hand that has just plucked a grape before yours belongs to Meryl Streep's willowy daughter, who is now tromping in her miraculous leather boots over to some equally willowy, chic friends. Realize that you would be disturbed if a stranger evidenced any excitement about eating a grape from the same cluster as one of your daughters. Look neutral. Back away from the grapes and Meryl Streep's daughter. Your imaginary mother yanks on a lock of your hair and sticks her head in your ear again. Go talk to her. Tell her you're a screenwriter! An actress! A playwright! Tell her you write a blog! She'll love the blog! 

Shake your head vigorously like a horse plagued by flies. Hiss, Knock it off, Ma. Imaginary mother sighs and takes off the devil costume. I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed. Your mother then leaps from your shoulder and disappears under the buffet table. You are running out of art to look at, and you have already said hi to the two people that you know. Decide that this is it for the afternoon. You have drunk your fill of Meryl Streep Molecules, and after one more gallery sweep, you will head back to your life of serfdom, with no regrets. This day will still have been better than the last.

Near the back of the gallery, you realize there are two graphite drawings that interest you—one of a deceased pigeon, and another that is a series of tiny, wonderful sketches of a twisted gum eraser. Inch closer. You like these drawings. You like them very much. Back in the carefree days when you were a happy, Birkenstocked Studio Art major, sculpture was not your thing, but drawing was. You have always been amazed by what the eye can see in dirt on paper,  and these drawings are right up your alley. Enjoy the drawings for a few minutes. Then decide that it really is time to go. There is no more for you here. The pigs are oinking for their slop, Serf.

Reluctantly head for the door at the end of the narrow exhibit hall. Glance to your right: another piece, three stones half-sunk in metal boxes submerged in red earth. Look around for its title: Stay. Someone jostles your arm suddenly, an expensive-looking man who has just walked away from a chat with Don Gummer, the same Don Gummer who is now standing right behind you. Don Gummer, Meryl Streep's husband, is a nice-looking fellow who looks like he would prefer to be wearing anything other than his tan tweed suit jacket. He is alone, no buffer in sight, and he looks as uncomfortable as you feel. 

Carpe the moment. Realize to your surprise that you actually have a question. Smile at him before you lose your nerve. He smiles slightly, wary but willing. Hear yourself say something like, I'm sure you're really tired of all the schmoozing but would it be all right if I asked you a question? It is far from verbal brilliance, but he has probably heard worse. He is amenable to entertaining your question. Try hard to speak slowly and rationally. Ask him if his focus is sculpture now, or if he still works occasionally in graphite and charcoal. It sounds all right coming out of your mouth, you decide. He opens his mouth to answer. He begins speaking, telling you that, yes, he does occasionally still work in—oh.

A blonde woman about your height is approaching on your left. She is talking on a cellphone: Yes, I know, I know. Hang on a minute, Daddy's right here, let me put him on.  She smiles apologetically at you and mouths the word sorry! as she hands the phone to her husband. He smiles apologetically at you, too, and takes the phone from her. He turns away, leaving you alone with Meryl Streep.  

Excuse me for interrupting, says Meryl Streep warmly. Didn't mean to break in like that. Carpe everything you can muster. In no time at all, she will again be surrounded by people, led back into the world of wine-swilling vassals. Quickly offer your hand. She takes it‚ takes it in hers. You are shaking Meryl Streep's hand. It reminds you of your mother's hand (the full-size version of your mother), soft and quite gentle. Marvel at how short she is, an inch or so shorter than you.

Do not say Hi. Hi or Hello would be far too normal, far too pragmatic. Say something in a breathless rush, something that really wastes time, something truly absurd that sounds like Would it be all right if I said hi to you?, even though you are already holding her hand, and the two of you should presumably already be beyond this point. She laughs. Graciously. This is graciousness, pure and simple. Already, people are closing in on her. You must be quick about embarrassing yourself. Hurry.

Realize what it is that you want to say. Realize you don't want anything from her, don't expect anything, don't need anything. Realize that what you want to say is thanks, no matter how forgettable this will be to her, no matter how silly this will seem to you in the morning. The words lurch forth. It's okay. Let them go, let them fall where they may. You mean well, you know you do. Hopefully she will hear it in your voice, even if she can't decipher the moist, muddled mess of your words.  Go for it.

Tell her that she must hear this all the time, but that you just want to say thank you, because she has been a genuine joy and a delight and an inspiration to you for a very long time, for as long as you can remember. She smiles politely, but she is distracted by the approaching persons, as are you. Do not do all the things that you must not do. So do only one of these things.

Say, I know it's ridiculous but you and I have the same birthday. Her eyes widen and she leans in. Really? she asks, interested and seemingly chuffed. June 22nd? Nod like a maniac. Don't hold back; surrender to the Stupid Side. You only live once. You may never again be standing next to grapes and rocks and pictures of dead pigeons while you chat with Meryl Streep.

Say, I was born the morning of your 21st birthday I know it's crazy but I always took it as a sign and it inspired me to become an actor. Now her husband is handing back the phone to her, and someone else is suddenly talking to her, overriding your silly, serfy words. The important person takes Meryl by the elbow and pulls her away. As she is being led off, she turns her head and casts you an apologetic glance. The conversation is over. You understand. You are okay with this, surprisingly okay. There are pigs to slop, but you will slop them more cheerfully now. Watch her go.

Meryl Streep says a few words into her cellphone, a word or two to her walking companion, then pauses. She turns. She takes two deliberate steps back to you. She smiles warmly. At you. Yes, you, in all of your ridiculous fangirl splendor and exploding Spanx.  She reaches for your left hand and squeezes it warmly. Again: Meryl Streep gives your hand a quick, friendly squeeze. She knows that your conversation ended abruptly, and she does not want to be rude. 

It is a lovely gesture. The loveliest.

And then, just like that, she is gone, whisked away by handlers, spun off into her world. She will not think of you on her way home tonight. She will probably take her shoes off in the car and ask her daughter about SAT prep and tease her husband about the shy, adorable way he held the microphone under his big rock. Meanwhile, you will be cleaning up casserole dishes of vegetable chili and chicken-and-orzo salad after the Parents' Night dinner at Sophie's preschool.

But you will be smiling. 

Sailing lesson

I. EMBARKING

We embark on our nautical adventure
knowing and not knowing a few things,
separately.

You're not so sure about your sailboat motor anymore.
Like you, it's over 40 and doesn't like to admit
that it's always sore in the mornings.

You only run it for 20 minutes at a time, now,
just to be safe. And your depth finder—damn it,
the new one—is malfunctioning. 

You don't understand it.
And you don't understand
why I am still on the dock
when you are in the boat, 
motoring backwards.

I don't understand other things.
 
I don't understand how to tell you
that I don't understand other things,
yet.

I want you to think I'm every
possible kind of smart,
still.

I don't understand where you want my hands
when I guide the bow of the Belafonte
out of your slip. I am only a fast learner
when it comes to languages, kids and dogs.

I had no trouble with our old Jabberwock,
my father nodding his approval from
the stern, hand on tiller, cigarette
crammed in pursed lips. 

Here is what I do not say over the
low thrum of the motor in reverse
and our anxiety in forward:

These hands have not let you down yet,
O, Skipper, my skipper. Give them
a fair chance. Show them how you want
to be shoved, how you like your pushing.

I think you think that I don't know
what can go wrong in tight spaces.
I do.

I think you think that I can vault
over the side of your boat and its spider
web of childproofing like a gazelle
clearing tall savannah grass.
I can't yet, but show me how.

I don't want my skull crushed in
indigo ice water between
the hull of the boat and the dock.
What a way to spoil an overnight.
I wait.

You return to the slip for me: take two.
I clamber aboard, chastened, as a man with no horse
in this race expertly frees us from the dock, godspeed.

With you at the wheel, 
I silently plot a bolder course.

I remember what I understand completely:
the perfect heat of your hand on mine,
the curve of your lower back,
the morning I opened my eyes and
found you smiling
as if you'd
just come home.


II. LAKERS AND SALTIES

Son of Milwaukee, you are a laker.
Long before the neighbors built too high,
the lake watched you sleeping
and hoped each morning that
you would come out to play.

I am a saltie. Waves mean ocean,
ocean means Atlantic, Atlantic means
the Garden State Parkway, the Garden
State Parkway means downashore,
and downashore means 25-cent toll
booths and boardwalk and tram cars
and saltwater taffy and muscle shirts.
Downashore means rental cottages
with beach towels drying on porches
and moldering carpets full of sand.
 

III. NAVIGATION

You let me drive your Dodge Ram, your Kubota
mower and the Belafonte: the hat trick,
the love trifecta. We are going steady.

We sail north on Lake Superior through
a sprinkling of islands, the Apostles.
At the helm, I strain to see the telltales
trailing from the sails. The green plume
is up and out, but the red is drooping.

The green, he’s happy, I say. 
I turn slightly starboard, into the wind.
The red ribbon lifts, flying parallel to the green.
Look, she's happy too, I tell you.

You smile that smile, my favorite telltale of all.
You ask how I know which is a he and which is a she.
I tell you I just know. Sometimes, I just do.

 

IV. TRIMMING THE JENNY

You are very proud of your Genoa sail
(the jenny, you say, they also call it a jenny)
and its smooth-talking, no-nonsense rolling furler.

I envy this blithe jenny, smoothly and silkily rising
to take its rightful place in the summer sun.
So unlike your Jenny, who often twists and
tangles coming and going.

The jenny catches wind as you tighten the sheet.
I feel it: lift. We fly. 

The slightest breezes always stir my own sails.
They tug me this way and that.
From now on, my anchor will reside in the water, 
unless I have you along for the ride. I like the way
you trim this Jenny. If it's all the same to you,
I want you on my crew.

Now you trim the mainsail of the Belafonte
with your usual shatterproof concentration. 
I sneak glimpses of your extraordinary face
and stay the course as you call it.
A little to port, you say. We fell off a bit.
See that clearing on the island?
Aim for that.

Trim: It is a tidy, can-do word that suits you.
You are a trimmer by nature. The mainsail, the jib,
your daughter's pixie fringe, your firstborn's cowlick,
the green backyard, its grass regulation soccer height.

You do not like to waste food, or perfectly good wind.
You're pinching again, you tell me. I consider
pinching you, then pinching myself. How did
I get here, onto a rust-orange sailboat on
Lake Superior, with all that is you?

Pinching, luffing: for the record,
my father never used these words
on the Jabberwock.
I am sure he tucked them away
for safekeeping in his vest pocket for
a New York Times crossword puzzle.

I am still pinching.
I squint at the wind indicator whirring
at the top of the mast, trying to figure out
how to get the wind back into your sails.
I will always try to coax the wind back
into your sails, if you let me.
You'd do it yourself, I know.
You don't need me.
But I have a few tricks that just
might interest you,
from time to time.

 

V. LUFFING

Although I am a luffer, not a fighter,
the Belafonte likes me, I can tell.
I feel like I am steering myself.
She handles like I do,
is touchingly eager to please.

Clouds and sailboats and ferries
glide past on the edge of the planet.
The wheel feels good beneath my hand,
the rudder puts up no fuss.

Good job, you tell me, looking pleased
despite the occasional seagull flapping
of a sail.

You sit for a spell
(the highest compliment)
and scan the water with something
approaching contentment while your
last mate stays at the wheel.

I study your serious profile as you wiggle
your omnipresent baseball cap and yank
it lower, shading your eyes.

A time will come when I will no longer
fear failing in front of you, sailor.


I am still learning to trust that you will love me
despite my mistakes, my melancholy,
and my ungainly, lurching desires.
I am still hoping that I will not broach
from carrying too much sail.
I am afraid of getting too close to our
vanishing angle:
the maximum degree of heel after which
a vessel becomes unable to return
to an upright position.


I plead only these: your stunning soul,
your beautiful face. Don't even get me
started again on that jawline.

Sometimes when you look at me,
I forget to breathe. 
When I forget to breathe, 
I forget that you have chosen
me as I have chosen you.

But you are learning quickly
that your words and your touch
are my ballast.

 

VI. THE SOUND OF YOUR VOICE

That's Hermit Island. See the dark blue
strip of water up ahead? That means wind.

You love explaining what you love.
Not why you love it, but how it works.
The sun laps at my sweat while
I drink you in. I love the sound
of your voice, buffeted by the wind.

I feared how much I might love the sound
of your voice, which is why I waited for
your very first call to go to voicemail,
then pressed you tight to my ear,
refusing my daughters' pleas
for speakerphone. I had to hear
who you were on my own, alone.
Gentle tenor, the Wisconsin thick
on your tongue, the soft, shy
hammock sway of your sentences:
I was a goner, and I chose to welcome
the fall. 


VII. IF I WERE A BOAT

You chose the Belafonte, so perhaps
it makes sense that you chose me.

After all, she too is sturdy,
of 1970s vintage,
good with kids,
appreciative of sensitive handling,
prone to oversteering,
and benefits from small, frequent corrections.

I promise you:
I will heel hard from time to time, but I will keep you safe.
I will never tack or jibe without fair warning.
I will never, ever strike you in the head with the boom.

 

VIII. RECHARTING

It's late afternoon when the motor dies without warning—that is to say, without a grumble first. (The motor might well argue that it has given you plenty of warning, short of texting or emailing or telegrams.)

York Island, our planned destination for the night, is just visible off the port side of the bow. Now, sitting dead in the water, we realize we won’t be making it there. We are becalmed, a lovely word for unable to move due to lack of wind.

The weather forecast for tomorrow morning is sketchy. With no guarantee the motor will start, seeking anchorage by an island closer to the mainland is a wiser move. You pore over worn paper maps and depth charts. You point out our options as we wait for some wind to kick up. Oak Island is a good bet for the night's anchorage, with its gentle crescent shoreline facing west. It is the tallest of the Apostles, and beloved by bears. You scan my face, worried I will be disappointed. You listen intently to my voice for any clue that we should press on to York. 

Oak Island is perfect, I say. 
 

IX. SUNSET

Despite very little wind, no motor
and no depth finder,
we make our way to the waters
just off Oak Island.

You are not sure the anchor
will hold, but it does.

We eat rice and beans and diced tomatoes in
the white-dotted red tin bowls I bought for you
near the marina. You liked the red, you said.

The sun is setting still, but you climb into
the dim cabin to wash dishes. They'll get
crusty
, you protest.

Come up here, I plead. The sun's not finished
with you yet. 

You oblige me and come up top with a thin
comforter. We wrap ourselves in it, defending
against flies, mosquitoes and the approaching
evening chill.

The western sky goes glaring blue to molten orange
to ripe peach to rose quartz. Clouds become
pastel streaks of lavender gray. The sun takes its
curtain call, no encore, and still the show goes on. 

You tell me you have never done this.
How can it be, that you, beautiful you,
have never watched an entire sunset,
from start to twilight?

I have, but not once has it been like this.
This one will not quit.
Like you.

You fret that you are not enough,
that the old prophecies will come to pass,
that you don't have it in you.
You fear that your heart is stiff and finite,
like the musty walk-through
fiberglass heart I used to explore as a child
at the science museum near Rocky's steps.

You can't ask me to love you less
than I do, 
is what I say. 
I won't do that.

Then I tell you that I will make a box and fill
it with all the words you think your heart
can't yet fit. And that you can decide someday
whether you are ready to open the box.

Now you're going to make me cry, you say.
Which is how I know your heart can stretch
to hold this lake,
if you'll let it.

 

X. NIGHT

The stars and the fireflies come out
of hiding at the same time, vying for
our willing attention.

A man in motion tends to stay in motion.
This is the longest, sleep excepted, that I
have ever seen you at rest, my love. 

Look at the water, you say suddenly.
I do and I gasp.
I have never seen a lake mirror
the constellations overhead.

I like our swaps, our give-and-take.
I'll tell you all the sunset's secrets,
if you coax the stars to come
spend the night on the water
with us, from time to time.

We are alone at night
on a sailboat with a busted motor
on the mightiest lake in the world.
Our phones hear nothing. 
No one knows exactly
where or who we are.
My coordinates? The crook
of your arm and your mouth
in my hair. All around us, 
the stars are swimming.
They'll never tell.
The moon, as full as I, 
ascends over Oak Island, 
a latecomer to our party.
I rise too, and stand at the wheel.
Your slow grin in the shock
of moonlight tells me that
the red wine from your sister
did not hurt. 
 

XI. TACKING

We wake up with no children,
no dogs, and one thin blanket.
Hot tea, instant oatmeal and the
boat radio's weather forecast
are served.
Death: unlikely today.
You weigh anchor;
I weigh this love of ours. 

On the way home the wind is drunk.
One minute we are scudding along,
the next we are adrift.

The weather forecast is not dire, but it is
still less than ideal. Thunderstorms possible.
We are giving the motor the silent treatment,
which it likes. We're hoping to ration its mercy
and coax it alive in time to navigate the marina.

We tack—
zigzagging to chase
whatever breeze we can—
over and over. 

I know what my lesson is, I tell you.
You are more than happy to hear it.
See, I say, and you thought I just
bossed everybody else around.


XII. MY LESSON

Do not panic when tacking leads you
away from your desired trajectory.
Your destination is still there,
waving you home, even when it
slips momentarily out of sight.

 

—for ML

The door

The door would not close.
I had tried for years
to close it behind me.

So like me, to fill a room
too full, to keep too many
useless things, to fear
pardoning the ghosts.

I pressed my hands against
the door. I shoved. I used
all my weight, as well as
the weight of all my wishing.

Then, love,
you came along and placed
your perfect paver's hand
on top of mine.

The door closed beneath my palm.
A quiet, solid click of the latch.
No slamming, no straining,
no groaning of the hinges,
no splintering of wood.

The door closed. 
The door stayed closed. 

And all at once there
was nothing more to do
but turn to meet the warmth
of your golden-sweet smile.

I have exactly one callus
to show for my prior efforts,
right at the base of my
left ring finger. 

I would show it to you,
but I don't want to let go
of your hand.

—for ML

Speak to me first

 

Speak to me first of absinthe
and pork belly. Your calloused
hands do the talking—
I have done most things and
you, woman, will be next

Lean in.
Tell me the one secret I have
never been told. Linger by
my ear, finger a lock of my
hair with your
usual carelessness— 
take me or leave me, 
the usual.

You will never be mine but
only children count people.

this silence

This silence would be deafening
if you could hear it, still. 

It broke you years ago, when
you were seized with a fit
of wanting needing so violent
you dug your way out through
your own skin to escape the
stunning cruelty of the
everpause between the
asking and never receiving.

You bled yourself in
payment for what did not,
would not come.
You did not think to ask
for a receipt.

Maybe this silence was
always deaf to you too.
Imagine that: 
a deaf silence.

The world becomes something
altogether kinder, if we know
nothing exists that can hear
some of us, and not others.

There are those who swear
they hear, and are heard.
They insist that this silence
excavates their fossilized prayers—

readily willingly mercifully
just in the nick of this time
and that time too—


from somewhere inside the black
crevasse of palms touching.

You have stopped (almost)
longing to be one of them.

You are alone.
You put yourself to bed
at night and listen to your
own prayers as they
whimper, then settle,
in the dark.

You are the only one
who can hear the four-letter
words howling fire
and spitting bile
and leapfrogging
in your belly.

You are not mute (yet)
but you know better (now)
than to ask this silence
just one more time
about the unanswerables
the unmentionables
the unhaveables
the unavailables
the unassailables.

You are nothing much to everyone in particular.
You are no one's one.
You are especially nothing to a few.
You are everything to two for as long as
it will be until you are not.

Yes, this silence
would be deafening
if you could hear it,
still.

 

the yes places

For me there have always
been the yes places

I know them before I
get there
I am always on the
slowest train to yes.

I know the yes places
will receive me as
well as I have mapped
them in my heart.

They always do.
Iceland, Wales, Scotland.
Germany, France, Japan.

There are, of course, 
others. How the thread
unwinds, tangles.

When I leave something
behind in a yes place—

a gold ring, a book,
a lover, say—

the yes places never mind.

They fold my lost things,
over and over, until they
disappear, until their shapes

no longer appear on
my heart's map and
I can trace each skyline
as I please.

It's wise to pack light,
the yes places say.
The dark will find you,
wherever you roam.
Latch the suitcase.
No need to bring
anything from home.

 

Because on January 1st, I drew a picture instead

On the second day of 2016,
I can hear the new year shuffling on the porch,
a new postman on an unfamiliar route, 
unsure where to lay
the oversized packages.

I sip my warmish coffee,
listening to the new year fumble tinnily
now with my battered blue postbox.
He might welcome some instruction.
He might welcome a welcome.

I might have welcomed these too, once.

In 2015 I might have dared to open the door.
I might have introduced myself, with my signature
head duck to a bob to a once-fetching tilt,
with the usual apology in my eyes
for the screen door's consolation prize:
yes, sorry, only this, only me,
only a woman of a certain age
(read: not his)
with wet eyes liquid soul wobbling breasts the yearning
sloshing onto the toes of his newly issued uniform shoes.

In 2015, I might have warned the new year that
the dogs will always bark. I might have counseled him
to leave the awkward pieces of mail on the
wide-hipped seats of the red plastic Adirondack chairs.
I might have told him not to fear his first day
(although how I hate the first day of anything)
and let him know that, sometimes, my daughters bake.

Now I refuse to open the door to him. Too soon.
It's nothing personal, newest new year.
He is welcome as far as my porch—as far as the doormat.
Let him, thumping, unseen 2016, deliver as he may.
What do I know, after all, about his job?
Let me, steely now, sit quietly. Let me offer no apology for being.

No year is at fault for what it delivers. No need to
shoot the messenger; no need to interfere.
What will come will come, never when expected,
and thus,
just as expected.

Safe enough

 

By 43, I think, in addition to knowing the right brassiere for any occasion, I should know how to say goodbye. I should be able to say goodbye with conviction, without looking back. At least, I feel like I should be able to do this. But I am always looking back, hoping for one last glimpse, one more wave. No wonder my neck and spine hurt all the time. I ache with goodbyes.

Not love (a sestina)

Yes, I would rather sleep alone than fight

and this is why I sleep alone. A drunk?

Not too late, my first last career. I write

already, my prerequisite word sea

dotted by empty green bottles. But sex.

You were saying? I liked it with you. Love--

The second-best shower

He loved me when he was drunk. There was a simple equation at work, not hard to follow: the drunker he was, the more he loved me. He grinned red-faced on that June night in his corner of the backseat of the cab. The red-faced grin: the closest thing to love I'd come to know on his face.

Sea shell, snowshoe, circumstance

In last night's dream I could run pretty fast:
tenth place in the 5k that involved climbing
wobbly circus ladders through plastic sheeting.
I did not stop for water. When I got home,
Lady Gaga received me well in my bed.

Then I drove five hours north to see you in
Montreal, a place in which neither of us has
ever lived.