The evening Carolyn Forché reads from a manuscript in progress
Saratoga, New York
As when someone dies, as when
a lover leaves, a constant drizzle of rain.
My waitress has the same name
as the woman you say you’ll leave for me.
I know right away I’ll give her a large tip,
anonymous apology, clumsy attempt at equilibrium,
as when I grope in total darkness for you,
for a wall, for the cool touch I’ll follow
through the smooth black house, a labyrinth
I’m told holds absolution. Once I sing the beast to sleep,
I may pass; if he wakes, he will eat me.
At the end of my meal instead of bringing the bill,
the waitress tells me it’s on the house.
I don’t believe you’ll ever leave her.
Horse sculptures line Broadway.
This one: lime green all over.
That one: a rainbow palomino
with a mane of white Christmas lights.
When it is time to go, I ride the bronze one
to Skidmore where the writers are.
Carolyn reads new poems in a partial whisper.
We lean in for the next word, as when
someone tells a ghost story, as when
a lover confides, We need to talk.
Carolyn and I are not on a first-name basis,
but her name sounds like mine,
and I think of you calling out to me,
as when you see me running toward you,
as when you don’t.
I was on my way to love you.
The bus was crowded. Up front,
A woman collapsed. The stars began to fall
On our heads. (So much love
Burned out.) Sometime in my thirties,
I lost my mother and developed a reputation
As a drinker. Such strange shapes
We made of one another.
A good lover
Always a surprise,
A fancy midlife death
We like to tempt. (My actual demise
A secret.) One summer,
I see a man no one else can see.
A ghost, parachute, clumsy apparition
Of my vanity.
We go out of our way
With such inventions until
Friday, on my way to love you,
A woman collapsed on the bus.
When everyone called for help,
I saw your message, two terrible words:
I’m leaving. Now, you know
Why I always traveled with funeral clothes.
Paramedics failed to revive the woman,
Packaged her up for that place
The dead go. The doors closed behind them.
Our driver resumed his yelling:
Plaza! and Park! and Campus!
I did not leave the bus.
I couldn’t figure out where our stop was.
Madness (another “dead doe at the side of the road” poem)
That we drive past her without stopping
to hold her. That her family doesn’t rush to her side.
That the body proves to be hollow. That I remember
my own sprint into traffic. That desire is to blame.
That impact is the best of it. That heat leaves the flesh
because it has someplace else to go. That shivering
is how the skin succumbs to loneliness.
That limbs stiffen within minutes of a lover’s good bye.
That this is not a cautionary tale.
That the road still calls.
That no invitation back to bed is too late.
That every kiss is a collision.
That while they litter highways
with empty chests
the dead grin.