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Belated Valentine for Alina


ISSUE:  Winter 1995

Offshore, the expanding light of dawn is saying nothing again.
My eyes, when I rub them like this, say they want to see stars.
I’m waking in Brockport to the smell of late
breakfast and a somewhat overdue spring. This pantheist land
says it will forgive itself again, it will bloom and forget
and sweep the breezes back into Lake Ontario.
The lake says yes. The other lakes, the smaller ones
just south of here, have that feel of Monet gone sepia, those
fragile impostors that want to pass for water lilies. They say little
and they say it softly and you have to listen
very carefully for words you will need tomorrow, the names
of villages, alibis too small to remember.

I wake alone in the house where you once sat for hours
facing a late sun and afraid to complain. I didn’t notice that your eyes
were saying enough of this, pull down the shade.
My superstitious neighbor with the green thumb says today
is the only day to prune whatever has survived the near-
frost of the South. I leave my garden bare, especially
the unruly hibiscus that clutched the bars on the living room window.
I’ve cut it down below my knees and the window says
look, that’s her face against the glass, the light in her eyes again,
but when I go inside, it’s only the window, it’s only dust
and unanswered mail on the sill, it’s only the light.
I say nothing or I say your name and I hear
the light complaining that it can’t get enough of itself,
I hear the slow dissolve of the light, it’s so predictable. I held you
here once, or I imagine how I would’ve held you here. This
is the light and this is your body which is solid light
and this is almost all I remember.

I wake on the floor, face down, with your name in my hands
The warm Spanish tile says listen. A telephone
rings and I wake holding the receiver and it’s your name I hear
over the line, so for all practical purposes I wake with your name
in my hands. It’s someone from the hotel staff asking you
to put me on the phone, asking us to pay, to leave,
to stay home, to make our own beds, to climb
down the fire escape, to elope, to wake in a country
with a name neither one of us can pronounce, to buy land,
to sell everything. We will always
be tourists to the hotel staff. The telephone says
it’s not time and it’s not over and it’s not so late.
I bring out my scrapbook, it’s full of pressed leaves, leaves
from every tree that has sheltered me. There are sounds
at the door, or variations of a single sound,
a kind of tapping like a dog or a very small child
who taps accidentally, who doesn’t really want to come in.
Something taps and says it’s time. I am wearing
the chain with the little broken watch that is a symbol
of nothing in particular. The gears are partially
exposed, like mechanical fossils.

I wake in airplanes, in a train station near the Pyrenees,
I wake in my own arms, like this, and like this,
I wake in the theater, you are with me, your sister is sitting
behind us, it’s early, it’s always early, isn’t it, it’s Saturday
and we are listening to the only music we can afford to love.
I wake in the high desert of California, I wake in Atlantic City, I wake while walking down 12th Avenue towards Flagler.
When I wake, I’m halfway there, wondering
why not somewhere else. I wake though I’m already awake.
It’s a life of waking constantly, even in my sleep. I wake
in San Antonio, where the poplar is not a tree and it’s in ruins
and it says your name and it remembers a time
when I would’ve stolen a yellow bicycle and a handful
of wildflowers for you, a time when I would’ve gathered
enough thread to mend all the broken moons in the galaxy.

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