A man with the right scruffed-up beard and breadth of chest swaggered into the S and M dungeon that was my place of business, and twenty minutes and one grand later had my chin — still soft with the downy fluff of teen-girl skin — held steady in one paw while the other one flew at my face so hard and fast that I ceased to exist as the same collection of matter I had been the previous instant.
When Sarah’s mother, Penny, got sick four years into our marriage, we decided to move back to Mississippi, considering it penance for the sins of our youth. We signed a lease on a house, a white one-story on the historical register with a wraparound porch and angels, stars, and the moon painted on the transom above the front door.
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The plumbing whines with trapped air,
dogs outside try to bark off
their chains, and I think: how to
get used to this earth without you?
You don’t visit in a dream
to say: it’s OK, I’m 20
forever. You don’t say:
I’m high on the altitude.
I can’t ask if you remember
that Sunday, Central Park:
the silence of candles for
John Lennon. Or the next day,
history class, a note you passed
to say we’d marry when
my hair touched my waist.
And my clever 16-year-old reply:
as if the world had such easy lengths.
The man who crashed into you
offered to buy your mother a new car.
Things outlive you: that cheap
Chinese restaurant, only
one wonton in the soup,
that bag lady on Broadway
with slot machine eyes,
Bob Hope and his TV birthdays.
I saw you last in winter,
streetlights on at 5, and
we walked down Riverside,
deciding whether or not to go
to a college in a dry town.
You stopped me at the window
of a nursing home: a dining room of
chandeliers, tablecloths, green trays.
The old folks leaned over their plates,
and the ones who couldn’t manage
sat apart with nurses,
dropping their chins for the spoon.
Stepping back from the window,
you said: darkness is comforting —
I took your hand.
The words froze white and disappeared.