Dear Far Away Friend
This letter will try to be short. This letter will try not to tell a long story in place of momentary insight. It will try to keep itself on one page only, out of respect for the aesthetic rectangle on print, framed by a white poise, decorum, the look of the thing. There will be no marginalia, no crossing out. There will be no detailed account of bridges finally burned, no one mountain scaled, or family laundry sorted, washed, dried, and aired. It will say only things like yesterday I heard your voice on the phone after a long time, a sensation like cream swirling into my morning coffee, crossing the borders of sensory intake, confusing them, delighting. That it can’t be explained, that some things are a mystery, bright as coals in the beard of a fire. That within hours I’ll be forty, and the roof of my house is covered with white, and so is the ground, the tips of the trees, the tops of all fences. My yard is a blank page. I want to go out and walk on it, knowing one day the page will turn green under my feet.
This fat planter splitting with the need of the tree,
cool and old under us, is like the surface of our planet,
our secret place in the middle of everywhere.
Here, we can wonder at each other,
and drop the minutes like shiny glass marbles
into checkered light falling through the trees,
through our hair, through what we know
and what we say, its bright gap sealing our complicity.
You tell me about the bits of tape, jow
stuck on your window they proceed in a slow arc,
that you did it with just your desire to see,
tracked Jupiter, the generous planet, across the sky
by squeezing yourself onto a sill
phosphorous with the first light of heaven.
You lean almost imperceptibly toward me,
as if you could dive miraculously through glass.
Jupiter descends to carry us,
a round and impossible red ocean.
The planter is a boat I straddle,
with sides just narrow enough for that,
and around it the water stars don’t even blink.
No ripple is strong enough to make that happen
until your hand rises out of the water, and your head
like a polished stone shakes off flakes of light,
tossing them back up into ether.
One of my hands opens to catch them
and the other reaches for you.
I find my hands inside yours. In silence,
you examine the stalk and plume of every crease,
then the sharp urgency of knuckles,
thin lavendar-blue lamp in each vein.
You look up carefully,
your gaze so clean, inscrutable,
and say I have pretty hands.
I look back at them again.
The fingers seem longer, thinner,
each nail spilling itself into tiny domes of milk.
You won’t let go, yet don’t want to hold them down—
as if you remember they might tremble
toward this release. But they don’t. They gleam,
lither, amphibious, as if they could float above me.
I tell myself you would never hurt me.
At this moment my wish is longer
than any distance I can imagine. I try
to travel its unfathomed length in one leap.
I let the damp fog of textbook miles
shrink this place, and all the pink and flesh
and maize colored states on the map,
cracked open with the fine print
of cities and borders and national parks,
the tight stitch of rivers in red ink,
stiff circled stars for each capitol.
I’m flying past those measured worlds,
spinning on the forced, shrill compass
of beginnings and endings. At this speed
our smiles flash magnetic slivers of swaying light,
and I want to believe we could pull each other
in by them without falling backwards or forward,
we could crest the stark wave of Jupiter’s path
beyond your delicate threads of yellowing tape,
we could drink up all these magical, buoyant stars,
and it would take us forever.
from The Rings Around Saturn, Black Rock Press, 1996
We were twelve, and he said
do it for me. That was how it started,
how most things start that I find myself doing,
after that and long before, those little births
and deaths from each year counted out like coins.
He said, C’mon, Madge, do it for me,
and in the sun his grey eyes
turned aquamarine marbled with gold,
and I had to. Soon I would be thirteen,
and he would give me his I.D. bracelet
made from a length of the same chain
that walked his Belgian shepherd, Fred.
Fred was fat and scared of water,
but he, he was lithe and brown,
caving into himself gracefully
as he jack-knifed off the board.
He knew I was afraid of heights, still am,
though not as much, because that day
I walked up the silver ladder
with its white sandpaper steps
dazzling under the chlorine bleached
balls of my feet; I was rising
on a white fire burning away my fear,
igniting the orange cotton of my suit,
and sending its white, electric fork
through my navel, the deep recess crackling
under damp, ordinary fabric.
With him on the salmon rectangles of cement
looking up at me admiringly
I was a new creature with a life span
of less than three minutes.
Walking across the board into air,
I gave myself over to sky and pool,
though I still remember the long, rough tongue
springing under me, how I stood there,
feeling the last of my toes, and saw how
the ten feet of water below was the same
color as his eyes shot through with the sun.
I jumped into them at once,
and from behind them, for an instant,
I knew who I’d been before I took a new life
and sucked clean its yolk, before I chose
my own birth.