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Hostage to Fortune

ISSUE:  Spring 1986
Often, when you’re away on business, I wake
in the middle of the night with something
urgent or whimsical to tell you
and then, the next morning,
can’t remember what it was. And sometimes
I bring in your khakis and oxford-cloth shirts,
your socks and underwear,
and pile them, still warm from the dryer, on the bed.
I pull a cuff across my wrist and watch
static crackle the hair on my wrist.
When I take a shower
the steam brings out the ghost of the aftershave
you put on earlier in the day and for a second,
forgetting, I peer out the shower curtain
to see if you’re there.

How fragile your plane would seem
if I stood on the beach where I once lived
and watched it fly inland.
When I’m old I would like to have saved something
to give you—the soft shreds
of a turquoise T-shirt we both claimed,
a jar of rain from a long Sunday afternoon
when we sat on the floor and listened
to sides of albums you’d never played,
the stub of a candle we lit in a mountain cabin
as the new year turned . . . but why wait?
Metal fatigue;
the inexplicable virus;
a stray bullet in the police pursuit:
I need no reason, and I have many.

A few days ago, I sat on a bench outside
the Episcopal church in a small Indiana town
and waited for you. The July heat thickened the shadows
and bent the necks of the daylilies;
I couldn’t read the hour on the sundial.
And though I knew your gait,
the changing shape of your face
as you break into a smile,
your hands gesturing
as if they might suddenly toss me
a discus of the slippery light,
I held my breath
as though you were a stranger
who would change my life
walking into my life.

I want the sight of you, ankles stained green,
when you come in from cutting the grass,
the taste of you on my hands in the morning;
I will give you what I’ve hoarded
and, when I’m frightened into doubt, think
of the night I was afraid to climb
the ladder that led to the warehouse roof
and the city’s best view
of the fireworks and how you were behind me all the way,
your hands on either side of my knees,
the sound of your voice,
Don’t look down,
you can do it. And I did,
emerging shaken and breathless
into the night’s splendid fake stars.


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