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Trying to Come to Terms

ISSUE:  Winter 1984

He says he’s all darkness, wishes he could care.
I am not wanton, don’t fling myself at men,
but fell into his arms as if despair

were the proper price. Now what I hastily spent
I want to earn back. Yet only small coins
rattle in my heart. I take up pen

and try to write it, to understand the point,
like peering through binoculars to the church
five miles away. The picture’s out of joint

here in the mountain retreat where birch
and maple absorb the night sounds
of animals, of human grief. Later today I’ll search

for the moth, note the beauty of the luna’s down
against its ugly body, that iridescent green
pulsing its last on the log’s crown

where I watched it yesterday. I’ll look to trees
for answers, as if nature stored them up
to be discovered by any stray hiker, free.

This at a time when death’s buzzing shop
is open all hours. Three friends give up the fight,
almost, with cancer. I have to work hard to stop

imagining them in a craftsman’s hands, light
wood he carves into shapes, torsos of pain
whittled clean. Everywhere I look, tight-

lipped patients, doctors, families strain
for belief. But the miracles we half expect of love
go whistling off on the nearest train,

denying failure. I put on the sterile gloves
and mask, tell myself this has nothing
to do with me. Then, shaken with fear, shove

the bouquets aside and admit it: breathing
is precious as any dream of the future.
Everything pales in the whispering,

the request for a simple backrub, a gesture
that’s useful. I observe the odd fragrance, alcohol and sweat.
Something here is genuine. Not that mixture

of lust and need we grasp for and sometimes guess
is all. If there is anything like a way out
it’s discovered in rooms like these, pressed

as we are to be honest, at least to ourselves, about
love, though sickness keeps growing like doubt.


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