Even if tonight a man I like were to pull me close enough
to taste and with his breath suggest where we go next,
I wouldn’t go. The last light glows pink in one long cloud
and soon the desert will be all black needles, and you’d think
at my age I’d be happy to be wanted by a man with a rough
beard and deep green eyes, to feel his hand slowly shape
my shape like evening. Once I rode all day in a bus just to meet
for a few hours a certain fisherman in a town near the bay. He
was married and I didn’t care. What I remember most is the café
where he bought me a pretty dessert, something honeyed with a bright
half cherry on a pillow of whipped cream, thin almonds
scattered on the white plate. What else happened that brief evening
is gone though I imagine we did what lovers do and, parting,
arranged to meet again, for I recall us lasting nearly a year before
we simply drifted into other lives. I sometimes think if we knew
our days of longing, nights of skin and salt, eventually leave
nothing but a random detail, the dessert soaked with honey,
or the lettering on the side of a truck, we might not bother
trembling, we might not forget to breathe when someone’s hand
just lightly grazes ours. But that’s not why I wouldn’t go. I’m all
for kisses. I’m all for grinding away in a squeaky bed in some
roadside motel. I’m for the rain coming down and a vine
climbing a trellis outside the door of each room where they
have not been together long, the lovers, not long enough to reach
the place where each one hurts so much they can no longer
find each other and it feels it will be like this forever.
Sometimes my husband wants to know why things can’t be
the way they were in the beginning. He wants it to be like it was.
I am sad for him like an angel, the evening gone soft, the air
warm as skin. Why not look for the moon—
that way when the night’s gone I might remember,
oh that was the night the May moon was almost full and gold,
and forget the rest as the mountain bleeds into blackness. Or I might
remember it was the night I realized the mechanic from the auto shop
left his cap in my car. On the cap it says Cardinals above the profile
of an angry red bird. I do not need this in my life.
Though my life might have been different if I’d fallen
for a mechanic, gotten lost in his strong arms, dizzy
pressed against his barrel chest, its nest of hair, and we’d
gone dancing at some country-western bar, and he’d begun
to call me Baby. That was the night, I’d tell my son someday,
when you were conceived. Jeeesus, Mom, he’d say. Or
I’ll remember it was the night I couldn’t find the moon. That night
at the café I was happy I was not in love with the fisherman.
Much of that year was miserable, but not because of him. I’d fallen
for a man who fell for someone else. Even after she was with him
I’d walk up to his door at night, press my ear against it. Listen.
I don’t forget the young are desperate. Here it’s still,
the desert toads are singing from the arroyo. They trill the same
long note for hours. Even after she was with him I could not forget.
The same long note. Though now I have forgotten everything
I saw in him that made me believe I had to have him. I didn’t know then
that the desire to love is fiercer than the love itself. We see
the Beloved because we must. Yet in that space of time after
I gave up on him & while I was with the fisherman in whom
I saw only a fisherman, I was thankful. He bought me a dessert
I pretended to like, though the sugar made me shiver. I had seen in his face
he hoped it would please me and it had been so long since
anyone had hoped, I swallowed every bite. It was raining,
the café windows running, light above the table a bit too bright. He
would not remember this. He does not remember this. I am sure.
By now it must seem I hardly existed and what of it. The male toads
will trill that note all spring, as every spring, to bring the Beloved close
lest there be no sons of toads. And the night, I might not
remember as anything. I would walk up to his door and listen.
Sometimes in the distance a dog would bark. I would
stand there, my own breath loud, hearing when cupboards shut,
when water ran, their voices thick as blankets, silence.
I would fly back with my own angel now and slap myself.
But what do we do when someone doesn’t want our love
and we must take it back, we must eat our own desire, and
slowly, slowly? At least I didn’t knock. Not
after the first time. That year I said goodbye to no one.
I took a bus and then a plane. There are those who cannot see in us
the shapely lantern or the few bright buds plum-red that brush against it.
But they show us it is there and then we ache. These May evenings,
I’m not all here. Not because I loved either man, really. But because
I learned then, and from loving since, who desire will make you betray,
what door you’ll never knock on again. And then you do. Goddammit,
you do. You failing lantern. You bud. You will always
have to see for yourself. Tonight, the evening can’t last
long enough. The moon-colored moths flutter up the ray
from the floodlight over the garage. Someone’s left
their cap in my car and I am not going to return it. Screw the cap.
A square of light has fallen out of the bedroom to the golden gravel.
My husband is reading a book on ancient coins.
We used to tell each other our stories:
we’d ride off into the sunset
we’d live forever by the sea…
But all I speak of happened long ago, before the past
grew infinite. That’s why tonight, even if a man was beautiful,
even if he played the guitar, and played a way that touched me,
I wouldn’t go. I might gaze a while at his hands, watch
a shadow slip its girlish self inside his shirt. I might know
what it means to be the one and only one he’s cruel to.
The truth is, the guitarist is old. He has lost a woman.
And all the good stories end when she is found,
when the round light of the lantern magnifies her form,
when the buds form their first kiss, when the breathlessness
is like a new body and the rain shines like honey on the leaves
outside the motel. But from there, the lovers have to go
somewhere. As we have had to go. It’s why tonight
even if a man who was not a liar, a man who was burning,
a man with the smell of the sea on his neck, a man
who made my matter dance, leaned in and whispered
the places he’d take me sweet on his breath and his tongue, I
wouldn’t listen, not even to the rain sweet-talking
the roof of the little blue motel where they drive up to the door
bearing the number of their room, the rain
ticking lightly on the car they sit kissing in after & before
she drives off alone with his golf hat on the floor. She
wouldn’t listen either if she knew the rain could tell her
how it sounds, years later, the tap of his walker at night
as he wanders the house again pausing in the doorway
not knowing who she is. There are no cafés and no motels, no
doors or budding branches. There is no cap at all. But springs from now,
the toads whose bodies purr will fill the night. Someone we wanted once
will be a stranger or a ghost. Even if they say, Come back, be
young again, we will not listen. Desire tells a story
that is longer than we can bear.
The One With The Darkest Hair
The one with the plums in it. The one with the white dress. The one with the laughing monkeys and the twist-off top. The one with the sky. The one with the man and the woman and the man dies. The one with a knife in it. The one with a doll floating out to sea and the one with no dog. The one with father still in it, with silky gin in it, with the perfume of acacias in it. The one with the nails in it. The one with the man and the woman and the woman leaves. The one with the swimming pool. The one with a wasp in it. The one with the duck riding a bicycle in it. The one with holes in it. The one with the desert highway and the dark stutter of lupine in it. The one with our lips in it. Oh, the one with wood nymphs and Greek wine in it. The one with glitter in it. The one with the man and the woman and the man is killed. The one with the most moons in it. The one with forgetting in it, and pink cotton gloves. The one with the darkest hair. The one with a Cadillac and James Brown in it. The one with the yowl in it. The one with the man and the woman and the child dies. The one with sand in it. The one with two graveyard rabbits grazing. The one with the names in it and the one with the numbers in it. The one with your eyes in it. The one with your beautiful chestnut. The one. The one. The one. The one with the silver legs. The one with creosote after rain in it. The one with cat’s paws. The one with the woman alone in it. The one with fresh sheets. The one with father’s ashes in it. The one with the boxes. The one with the ugly doorbell. The one with the lake in it and the cloud in the lake. The one with the dog running home in it. The only one.
Casper the friendly ghost at a window looks out at the snow. A cat the size of a bear is sleeping on the dresser. Oh. It is a bear and the bear is a ghost too. Casper goes to sleep in a dresser drawer. He doesn’t like to scare people. “I’m a friendly ghost.”
Ghost Bear wears a yellow bow tie. His name is Harry and he shakes his belly like Santa.
The mice in the house are not ghosts. The sign outside their mousehole says CONDEMNED.
I have not seen Casper since I was seven or eight. I am surprised at the timbre of his voice,
sugary and boy-like. Annoying. But I had loved him as a kid. I sang along with the theme song. And now, because of the cartoon on TV, which is a rerun, it’s my child-self in rerun. Watching the cartoon I’m watching for clues to my self, who I was, what I liked, why.
When I recognized him at first I was happy because I’d forgotten. But I remembered there was a time—it must have been a regular time—I’d sit down and wait for Casper to come on. I didn’t ask questions. Why the mice are alive. Why a bear needs a bow tie. Why Casper sounds like a eunuch. And why has the mousehole been condemned.
Flickering there in black and white, Casper’s no more than a floating sheet. A simple ghost. He was comforting to a child who never once seemed to realize Casper had to have been someone’s ghost, someone dead. I thought it sad the people, the cartoon people, he scared. He only wanted to be loved and I was the kind of child who rooted for him.
Snow looking at snow, really, a ghost in the window in the TV in the living room in my head.
Casper is in 1962. Still. Casper and Harry are both transparent against the night sky when they go flying over the houses. I see through Harry the constellation of the Dipper. Stars. I wonder about physics. How can Casper land on a branch when he passes through solid walls? When is he a cloud and when is he a sheet over a broomstick. I wondered why does a ghost need to blink. I wondered who had died and become a friendly ghost. I cannot remember 1962.
If Casper is a ghost and transparent before the stars
If snowflakes are like stars it stands to reason
Therefore impossible to tell if the snow falls in Casper as it falls on him
Or, if it is Casper in the air, Casper falling
but more slowly than the snow is snowing
It is impossible to be who you were. When I picture the child she is empty. I see the glowing picture through her. The full name of the bear is Harry Carry which now I realize is a play on hari kari, ritual suicide. What kind of child’s ghost was he, an old suicide hanging around with a young dead boy?
And yet I was glad to see him. I had not believed in ghosts even as a child. I knew they were not real. Now, she is not real. The child’s not real. Yet the ghosts sail over the neighborhood as if then were now. The ghosts come to a body and sail through.