chasing shadows again

{September 26, 2007}   Cruising on the River Styx

I think about you dead and beautiful dancing
together in eternal halls come alive with sensuous taffy twists of neon
you died bathed in the glow of artificial light never having glimpsed each other
on shores you will never touch again you united two families
dreaming of the children you will never have while words turn bitter on their tongues
as they ask why despite your love you were left alone
to fall into the warm Aegean sea to lie cold in a Mexican morgue
how they could have begun to wait forever for your smiles
not knowing somehow that waiting would not ever end in delicious tangerine surprises
that visions of what may have happened would replace sugarplums
unable to believe you would dance forever together
united in confusion walking through hallways filled with strangers’ laughter
you have a drink or three in the glittering casino as you wonder
which of you is on the wrong ship because you aren’t headed the same direction
why everything once indissoluble is melting into memory torn easily as cotton candy
and what went so terribly wrong between spins of the roulette wheel

Mmmmmmm…reasons I should not watch TV – this poem is a response to Dark Voyage. Because in a sufficiently odd mood I will write poems about what’s on tv.

This poem was actually written ages ago, but I have toyed with posting it or not posting it and back and forth. I’ve decided to post it, if for nothing else that to ask – is is bad that death = candy?

It is my poem, and I do not understand.

Someone make sure there is brightly colored candy at my funeral. I am especially fond of Dolles Taffy. That would be appropriate. My favorite flavors are the mint and the strawberry. I do not like the licorice. Please do not serve the licorice ones at my funeral. Unless people who never liked me come and pretend to be deeply personally affected. Then you may put the licorice taffy in their coffee. On the off chance I can see you do this – know I will be laughing.


your cities are memories and ghosts to me
your mists carry with them the weight of the dead and of time
the whispers of footsteps up the stairs to greet an empty cage – the memory of feathers and flight
where are those feet – your feet – now
are the shores of heaven soft white sand so fine that wet or dry they suck in your feet as if to taste you
when you look back can you see me across the endless rolling sea that separates death and breath
or is this last distance the only one too far to divide us

even here where my feet touch a different ocean
I think of you as I walk through the market on Sundays
what would you have thought of the old bottles – the jewel-tone fruits – the crepes
in my kitchen at night when I walk
I sometimes wonder if my footsteps are the whispering ones
if I walk through memory and stand at the window that overlooks the mountain eyes wide and worshipful
if it is the clinging of the living who remain and not the dead
who haunt your kitchens and your rooftops
dreaming of your elevated dogs and cathedrals below the surface of the earth

you would have taught me when I married your blood to cook the soups that taste of the earth they came from
in place of my homeless dishes with traces of lands I have never touched or felt – only tasted
as you taught your daughter on whom I could smell your mountains no matter how long she had been away
in the handful of Spanish words I know lurks the word for mother
central to your world in ways I could not accept until I left it
you and I spoke without comprehension but with understanding
what stories you told me as you set out coffee and tea and bread I could not repeat or translate
pressed to answer I would say that you gave me the earth and the sky
taught me to listen to the blood that runs under the lines of fate written across my palm

I do not know how to say goodbye
most certainly not to a woman who regarded me with eyes that could see into hearts
not to a woman whose presence could define the word home
whose secrets I did not know but felt written in feather-soft brushes of truth and ink over my skin
in a language I could not read
for whom I picked out a Christmas card in which I recognised only Christmas and love
not knowing that those words would be the last I ever gave you
save for these
Te quiero. Sueño de los cielos del verano.

pressed against the skeleton of a cursed and wayward ship
you wonder if you might have drifted through the slowly decaying galleon’s ribs
if only that dolphin had left you be
the transition from quickly to late to too long to timeless nothing to you
you know that you could get there faster
atop a starfish or cradled in the arms of a sea anemone
you remember with longing the hands that wrote the message you carry
more patient and with more trust in the sea
able to seal your cork back in with wax and release her dreams
with a kiss and a whispered prayer
her hands stilled in a graveyard now and
her mouth that pressed to yours for more wine silent
you know better yet you still think of yourself as her lover
you know you have a duty to cross the sea
to offer up her last words in hope
though you are shattered at last someone will place a rose on her grave

I had intended that to be more playful, but c’est la vie. Perhaps I will write another one! This one is done speaking for now.

Or, at least to the children that might have been mine. I determined, years ago now, in Ecuador, to write this letter to you. It was the wake for your grandfather, or at least, the man who would have been your grandfather, a year after he died. I wrote a poem there, which is in the mail, that you should see.

I have had a bit of rum tonight. Mango flavored rum, which as the woman who was almost your mother, I do not recommend. Spiced rum, my darlings, is the way to go. Captain Morgan’s Private Stock is my rum of choice, followed by Stroh 80 (which will add a delightful hint of butterscotch to your rum and Coke). I just climbed out of a bath where I was reading The Te of Piglet aloud to no one at all (and decided there were two people I should read it aloud to). The point of telling you this, as I recall, was to illustrate that I am in fact sober enough to type, but not sober enough to lie. And that is important.

If you see this, children of the father I meant you to have, I want you to know that I love you – because as much as I loved the idea of my own children, I loved the idea of your father’s children and I do not believe that months or years or centuries will rob me of your loss. You will always be what I wanted, and though you may not be what I have had, I could never hold that against you.

In the beginning of the fall, when the sunlight began to die, your father ended our engagement. And in practically every sense that mattered at the time, and that matters to me still, ended the only life I ever meant to have. I will not lie here, not for him, not for you, and not for me. You and your father were all the life that I had ever given myself to. I will not deny that I gave him reason to leave me, nor will I deny that his choice was made with love and much suffering.

You are probably wondering why I am writing you this letter (which I had intended to tuck into the baby book my mother kept for me until you had one of your own and which I had thought of writing as a poem and perhaps sober). I can offer you only two reasons – the first is that something inside of me dies at the thought I will not write this, the second is that I never knew my grandfather and I wanted, desperately, to know who he was. Whatever came to pass between your father and I – I do not want that to rob you of what I meant to tell you of your grandfather.

What you need to know about your father’s father, before anything else, is that from the second he saw you, he would have loved you. I want you to know to know that – no matter what you do, no matter where you go – your grandfather would have loved you. He came to America and (much more so than your father’s mother) he came to speak and listen and breathe with her. I want you to know that when he at looked people he saw them. I want you to know that from that first awkward dinner until the last time he spoke to me in the hospital, he saw me – because I want you to know that he would have seen you.

Your grandfather might not always have been a gentle man, but he was always gentle with me. Before anyone in your family did (other than, of course, your father) he made me feel that I was welcome – he knew at what point exactly I couldn’t stand to not understand the conversation because I didn’t know enough Spanish and would suddenly ask me a question or tell some story in English. I want you to know that a lot of your father’s ability to captivate people comes with his blood. I want you to know that his stories mesmerized me, that his love for a place I’d never seen became my own, and that knowing him -even for a few months- changed my life.

I want you to know that he would have shown you how to find way through life in the dark. I want you to know that he would have known the words that would make you laugh, or cry, or smile. I want you to know that he could see the very best in people, and that he would have seen it in you. I want you to know he looked forward to you and to long vacations and to traveling and to the time he meant to have with you. I want you to know that I would have been both proud and glad to have him as a father and your grandfather – and that I would have shared, and will still share, every memory I have of him with you. I want you to know that cried while I wrote this, not just for him, not just for your father, but for you.

I would have been your mother, but I don’t expect I will now. I want you to know all of this anyway. I will always love your father, just as I will always love you. And, though when I first planned this letter I had expected I would be there to tell you this, that I would watch you grow up, that you would have been mine – your father loves you too. If he can’t always tell you, or always show you, that is not because he doesn’t.

When we talked about you, when you would have been ours, years before you were conceived he loved you. He will love you now. And he will love you always. As will I.


et cetera