Empire State Building
Twenty years ago we finally went to see the sights,
riding the train through flashing dim green suburb,
glassy sharp-edged slum, the skin stretched
pale and tight over your fine cheekbones —
you didn’t really know how to be afraid of death,
simply of heights and under-grounds:
you wanted always to be on the surface of the earth.
Your demise was still an abstraction,
discussed in the evening while sucking cool mints —
the natural order of things. I dragged you
all the way to the city under the water from Hoboken,
then marched you up to the roof of what was the tallest
building in the whole world when you were young.
I haven’t been here since it was built, you said,
and though the blood sank to your innards in panic,
you kept walking; I kept pushing and pulling you
forward, propelling your solid weight like a cart
loaded with spring lambs. Your hand, soft
wrinkled palm, roughened fingers speckled white
around the knuckles, gripped mine, but I showed
no mercy; I was forcing you to confront the bitter
end ahead of schedule. I was being cruel
to make you go look at the thin sparkling air
of the heavens and you knew it. But later,
my love, as you lay sweating, heavy and motionless
in your bed as though carved of wood, deprived
for weeks of even the common decency of words,
weren’t you glad you went with me once more to the top?
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Conceived on Valentine’s Day, a poem
In the beginning, I almost hated them for bringing me into the world…
alone as egg, one floats weightless, drifting peacefully like a helium balloon,
and as sperm, one swims in ever-widening circles with serene joy.
I never approved the union: his tiny-tailed kamikaze wriggling to oblivion,
smashing headfirst into the mammalian membrane of her egg.
But now I love my frail universe; evidence of their short, fraught marriage.
They cooked me in the kitchen, first upon a midcentury, glitter-red dinette set,
then on gleaming, spotless black & white linoleum. I remember my mother
at that exact moment, the way she arched dizzily beneath him half-clothed…
her strapless formal askew, her silk stockings awry, her feet bare
after kicking off her spike heels. Barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen, she learned
quickly to live with organized madness. A love collision, a soft accident, birthed me.
She opened her soul to my father like a flower opening to the sun & he did the same;
my hands, my feet, my face suddenly called into existence by heat & explosions.
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Group of beautiful young women strolling on a beach
Pretty Young Women, Playing A Game
The stupid party game I suggested that night was called “the worst moment of your life.” A half-dozen of us were playing, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor. The prettiest, Kelly, resembled a long-past period of fashion, with her trembling dusty-yellow curls, her sharp little chin — her eyes were bright blue, her frame delicate. We had been up all night; the sun was close to rising, but the birds hadn’t started their relentless cheerful, spell-breaking noise.
Kelly didn’t want to play at first, but the rest of us insisted, figuring what? That not making head cheerleader was her life’s worst tragedy? That’s what happens again and again to women like her, they try to explain why they don’t want to talk about it… but no one listens.
The second prettiest one, Vicki, was pale and fleshy, moving with a clumsy, yet charming, slowness that made the rest of us wonder if it was an act… or could she really be that dumb? Across the undersides of her velvety forearms gleamed a network of thin white scars… the baby she’d left at her mother’s that night was not her husband’s. Mistakes get made; the child’s father was never heard from again.
Oh, but now Vicki wanted to get remarried so badly it made every other woman in the room flush with embarrassment just hearing her mention her latest lover’s name. We knew because of the kid that wasn’t his he would never agree to marry her; but she was so beautiful… scars, sad eyes and all… that he couldn’t say no to what she offered up nightly.
So, after being pushed & pushed & pushed & pushed & pushed into participating, Kelly narrated the worst moment of her life. Her twin sister was in the middle of a divorce. We never knew she HAD a sister. A few days before Christmas, the estranged husband called — he had lots of presents for the kids. She agreed to meet him at a gas station down the street. The only thing he gave her was three bullets — one in the spleen, one in the right lung, one in the throat.
“At least he had the decency to shoot himself too,” Kelly says sobbing. “How does marriage turn into murder?” The rest of us watched tears plop out of her eyes like clear glass pearls; we heard the birds finally, blessedly, began to chatter, bringing relentless life back into the world.
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(Statements in italics taken from Ethics, by Baruch de Spinoza)
Look farther and farther toward thin blue sky, until the green feathery tops of the trees are like the northern pole on some dream planet. Put the anger back in its bottle. These trees are generous. Hatred can never be good.
Your carsickness from the ride up the mountain begins to fade, leaving behind a breathless, weepy echo not unlike your first religious fervor. Hatred is increased through return of hatred, but may be destroyed by love.
When have you not been afraid? The random can be scrutinized for meaning, the puzzle solved, when surveyed long & carefully enough. Anything may be accidentally the cause of either hope or fear.
These trees have plenty of time. As a child, you stared at Jesus’ sad face for hours, wishing you could marry him — wondering what it was that made him love you. Could you sacrifice yourself for the sins of the world, if it was that simple & necessary? Cathedrals turn us small and vulnerable again, for reasons both blessed & cursed. Devotion is love towards an object which astonishes us.
Vague, starry eyes like yours feel at home here; the air is weighty, burdensome & solemn. You’ve loved trees before; this is different. These trees have plenty of time – more time than you. If we love a thing which is like ourselves, we endeavor as much as possible to make it love us in return.
Your nerves are suddenly frozen, by the unaccustomed richness of perfect light. Your guide is tall & slender, hesitant to speak. Her mother has the tattooed forearm of a Polish Jew of a certain age. The knowledge of good and evil is nothing but an idea of joy or sorrow. Sorrow is [a hu]man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection.
These trees have plenty of time. She touches your wrist, and for a moment, you, too, want to grow taller, leaving the surface of the earth behind forever. Shyly, she picks up a tiny pinecone, smaller than a toy. You both laugh when she tells you this is their seed. Joy is [a hu]man’s passage from a less to a greater perfection.
These trees have plenty of time. And all around, their wise, fallen, hollow bodies litter the ground like the bones of saints. Childlike, you understand a wish to die here, never to leave this hush. They’re only trees – your neck bent back as far as it will go; only trees, yet wondering if the giants can hear your thoughts. Love is joy, with the accompanying idea of an external cause. Love and desire may be excessive. When the mind imagines its own weakness, it necessarily sorrows.
Is there anything we have less power over than our own tongues? These trees have plenty of time, growing wise as the Buddha, in their silence.
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Conjoined Twins, a poem
Her entire pregnancy was uneventful until the second stage
of labor. Mother pushed and pushed, but we babies could not
budge. Surgeons came, made quick cuts necessary to disengage
us from the womb — found our joined skulls, an impudent topknot.
Mother wouldn’t let them separate us, she said the risk
outweighed the benefits. We learned to walk as best we
could; I, the taller, faced front in hopeful arabesque
while Sister followed. She didn’t mind, droll legatee
of my cranium, girl I never see. Despite our closeness,
we live in opposite ways; I view her face only in mirrors,
with my one good eye — our skin melts together, flawless,
pearly. A nice thing is, we never suffered night terrors.
We have never been alone. When they say, look, Siamese
twins, I want to scream. That is not the proper name for
our arrangement. Sister says, let them talk — I think she’s
crazy to let it pass, but I don’t say that. A big furor
won’t help at all. One trick we are good at is peace.
Negotiation has been our forte since that first incomplete
division; the moment each cell refused the other’s release.
We have minds of our own, thank god, and life is sweet
when you know where you’re bound. I go off to work,
Sister goes too. I sing while I type up my data, she reads
her mysteries, we break for lunch. My boss goes berserk
every once in a while; he’s got the same kinds of needs
for perfection we all possess. The one worry I have
not tamed is which of us will die first. I hope
it’s not me — how would she walk? I am the brave
one, the one who catches bugs. I would try to cope
without her. Once, in the night when she fell sick
with the flu, I held her until the shaking stopped,
until the fever broke. I wondered then, all dyadic
jokes aside, what if we had been cut apart, clipped
early into two separate forms? If it ever comes, will life
on my own be any easier? I’d save some of her long hair,
for sweet remembrance. She’d be a sharp phantom pain, a wolf-
gray stone with my birthday — my head a floating solitaire.
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