I wrote this in an hour one June day in Wroclaw, Poland. I’ve since distilled it, but it remains as true to me as the original.
Recall when we were young, when I grimaced – doubled over in dramatic agony – each time I kicked an ashen football to my older brother. Shirtless, he juggled the ball, arms slightly flexed, affecting aloofness while I sweated, the perspiration gathering at the sharp edges of my hairline, turning my auburn hair black. The meters he traversed so casually, my twiggish legs made into miles.
Recall how you sat in the sparse grass beneath the elm. Your arms wrapped around your knees, relinquishing their grip only to cheer me with enthusiastic applause. Your tiny hands, their fingers already long, sounded like the rain on the veranda roof tonight.
Moments ago, as I retrieved the mail, I looked out from beneath my umbrella and felt like a sailor overboard, watching the glow of the dining room fade on the distant, dark sea.
Where does the ship go so determinedly? It rushes there. It delays for no cripple or indecision on a cripple’s part. We’ve had to choose with our hair half-fixed, our pants half-on, so to speak.
Our frail limbs and dignity, dressed in a sports jacket and elastic waisted trousers, a white sling cradling our fractures, our history, our waiting to die, slouched on a park bench observing children on the ship, on the Titanic, lonely in the knowledge of how it ends, when we’re all tossed overboard, one by one, the last of us bowed at the railing, scouring the vacant sea, perhaps leaping uncoerced, with no one to wave goodbye, or remark on the floral arrangements at our wake.
Recall when you colored your hair orange, like the peel of a tangerine? We laid in bed and tried to agree if orange was complimentary to green or blue. You argued blue, and I green, and thinking of your face that night I wonder if you weren’t right after all. You should have seen your eyes. The morning sky in them glowed as clearly as now, though the yellow around your pupil, that so reminded me of a solar eclipse, has faded in the fog of age.
Recall when you laid on top of me with your eyes closed, during an accidental lull in our love making, your lips drawn lazily in what I interpreted as a contented smile. I couldn’t convince my trembling fingers to unclasp the two hooks of your bra, those confounded hooks obscured in a forest of vermilion lace. How I exulted in my success, when your breasts tumbled from the cups and landed against my inhaling chest.
Every year since, I’ve watched with resignation and no little stoicism as the strap of your bra, that I so struggled to free, inches down your back as your once pointed breasts round and slink towards your waist like we towards our graves.
Bulbs on three sides of your mirror cast you in dramatic light. The wrinkles above your eyes fill with gold as you paint yourself. Your neck droops from your chin heavy with the worries you’ve stored there so no one else need carry them. Your arms flap when you dance now to our old songs, the same songs I so tortured again and again in attempts at romanticism, hoping to sing you into my arms. I only made you laugh, and I guess that satisfied.
How I adored your sleek ankles, the stubble on your plush thighs in the days after you shaved. I held your calves in my palm like pearls. Now those pearls are pomegranates lined with varicose veins. The hair on your thighs grows long now – when did you resign yourself to age?
Your ankles protrude from your black silk slip like the exposed roots of an oak tree. You step into red and black high heels and I think of black birds in barren Cheney when I curled myself around a girl on Thanksgiving night – the sky held its snow bundled in cotton clouds, waiting for Christmas, waiting for us to carry our bags laughing home, saving the gift for when we forgot its nearness – I held her as she described to me the distance from which she watched them rob her womb and loft her baby from Deck E, into the irrevocable sea.
You adorn yourself in ornate black, a gypsy dress, neckline swooping like a queen’s. You are Elizabeth, Juliet and Justine. I see now, I see: for the whole of your life you have pursued beauty – I see it in the varnish on your nails, the rouge on your cheek, the Japanese pin holding your hair with nonchalance – and in your age you have made it captive to your whim; you have made it your courtesan; it cradles you, carries your frailty gently, more gently than I can, to the rail where the wind unravels my criticism; you have married it, have loved it, and beauty has ravished you, my love, my eternal maiden, my rain, my sea.
[ wroclaw, poland spring 2008 ]