Of Death and Exes
Many of us have an ex-spouse or two, lurking in the shadows. Mine passed away in 2003, yet his memory will follow me forever. No doubt his family and second wife would prefer not to think about my existence, or my role in his life ... but facts are facts, and I was undeniably "there" for awhile.
When I read about his death in the local paper, it came as a surprise. Nobody had cared to let me know, of course. I felt sadness, regret and a twinge of guilt, for I realized that my own behavior in times past was hardly above reproach! We were both immature, I think. I can't lay full blame on either side for our divorce, although I often wish we'd tried longer. Hindsight does nobody much good, unfortunately.
I've reflected a great deal since then, both on the nature of marriage and the many issues surrounding my own mortality. Here are a few of the resulting poems.
In place of unkept promises, I rescue turtles beside highways,
adopt homely cats from cages, release kick-marked dogs
off chains, save abandoned herbs in garden centers.
In lieu of more lectures, I allow pawprint armies on my car hood,
ignore tomato infiltrators among rosebushes, admit moth flotillas
through screenless windows. I catch lost stars with mirrors.
Instead of mourning empty birthdays, I discover beach agates,
wake before sunrise, invent new names for God, imagine angels
and holy gold hair, buy self-help books I will never open.
He lurks at my photos' edges, a peripheral blur, his face
shuttered beyond eyeshot. If I try to capture and frame him,
the afterimage dissolves with a disembodied sneer.
Then I pattern my perfect lawn with footsteps and wheels,
until the crushed and harmless grass weeps green.
I never scream.
You neither lead nor push me, yet I fall
into the coals, then crackle and ignite.
I wrap your body in a trail of light
without control or care, and shrink to small,
a zip beneath your molten gaze. When all
my skin has bubbled, from your solar height
you terminate this incandescent flight,
by searing off my wings to watch me crawl.
So I look up, immobilized, and grin;
my laugh deflates your gas divinity.
I still can grasp your feet! I drag you in,
and crush you to my carapace. You see
the pity on my face, before the flame
engulfs us. As we flare, you hiss my name.
Our wedding portrait in my secret drawer
calls me from sleep - you dead, and I passed on
into another picture. Since you’re gone,
I study ghosts, and wonder how much more
I’ve learned since then. Your faded shape, before
you chose my substitute, holds me till dawn.
I search for shadows. Now that She’s withdrawn
your body, what is left to reassure?
Unknown soft things are tunneling. A stark
earth blanket hides the eyeless grubs that crawl
toward your oaken box. My light footfall
cannot disturb them in their busy dark.
Your bones remain, and also my desire.
I wish she had consigned you to the fire.
A Narcissus from Your Bouquet
In which rivers are reflected
your cuneiform eyes?
When we parted in a diaspora
of dust and poppy seeds,
I was caught by the clawthorn
spears at the water’s brink.
It has been long since we plucked me,
and now I am crownless.
My calyx opens its soft palate
but you no longer fill the cup.
I am alone, a self-god weeping
petals onto the stream.
A ring of crows laughs overhead
as I bend to the surface and
drown for you.