A fifth-grade bully, a blossoming romance, a late-night crash
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Like pilgrims visiting the tombs of saints,
smoky hands of angels on our shoulders,
we wandered the medieval city, stone churches
and tall half-timbered houses leaning over
narrow streets. After lunch we walked to a nature
preserve where we used to meet twenty years before.
Or maybe the only pilgrim was me,
having flown a night and a day to visit
my memories. She’d lived there her whole life,
one day’s dust settling on every yesterday,
whereas for me that brief, vivid time was fresh
as photos in an acid-free album.
I remembered her, still almost a girl,
lithe as exposed wire, electrons ready to jump
into my hand and burn through my body.
Who had she become, who was once so hungry for love?
All around us the short, bright summer
was having its way with things. In dappled shade
we walked beside the three lakes at the center
of the preserve. From the air they might have looked
like the chambers of a heart, pumping the valley’s
blood into the river that surrounded the town
like a moat. The ducks, not so wild
that they hadn’t grown used to handouts,
guided their little families in tight formation,
like convoys on the lookout for U-boats.
In my country, they might be dragging the water
for the body of a gangbanger, or else one of the lakes
would be drained and workmen in waders and gas masks
would be collecting milk cartons, beer bottles,
old tires, and a mountain of plastic wrappers.
Here they don’t throw trash in the lakes —
at least they pretend they don’t.
Here they let bodies sink into the mud,
where the worms can do their work.
I could almost see myself on the bottom of the lake,
slowly decomposing but alert enough
to notice the oddly matched couple staring
at the surface. Maybe we’d always been wrong
for each other. How could anyone understand
my habit of going in the wrong direction?
I seemed immune to the usual sorts of happiness.
I seemed to thrive on mistakes.
How else explain how happy I’d become?