I set out, not for Byzantium, those lingering cartographies of bygone lives,
the lyric ruin of cities, the icons and burnt calligraphies of bygone lives.
I set out for New World opportunity, aerobic energy, fruit-flavored coffees,
perfected trilogies, imperfect in the piecemeal biographies of bygone lives.
I set out for those highways veering off byways, deer on patches of grass,
new News with a seductive prize, hard to imagine in the mysteries of bygone lives.
I set out for happiness, the flesh in love, couldn’t get enough. Raw gifts
in silk, lipsticks, the one-way tickets, had me craving the bodies of bygone lives.
I set out for the city, lost my wallet, passport, VISA, any evidence of my name,
backtracked, discovered that I lacked tact, hard facts, the histories of bygone lives.
I set out without a map, just stories, like this one, that Byzantium was holy, the sages
artful, drunk as the goldsmiths in love with the glories of bygone lives.
But here, far from any ancient place, here where we refuse to age and I buy scented
products for my face, my name is cut short despite the memories of bygone lives.
She uses the apartment keys
to let herself in from the neighbors.
I am unnerved, maybe from drinking.
I know it will take all
the last of my strength to get through
the bath hour, reading Babar,
the talk of hair, how and if we will braid it,
tomorrow’s homework review—
I am really in a poem I say, cutting
lines together, images, this poem
I am always aiming at, pulling the sheet over
the day’s trial, pulling browned buds
from the night flower (didn’t give it enough
water this winter – it might not bloom
this spring). Brushing out
my daughter’s fine hair over her
wide forehead, caressing it, I put
another story together; she says
in eight-year-old-directness, “You threw him out
didn’t you?” This is the moment
I gather the lines, the poem, the raw
tendrils, watered or not, snapped in urgency
(the night flower has such a pungent smell).
“He wasn’t with me anymore sweetie,
he slept on the couch in the living room,
that’s not being together.” She weighs this,
the poem, in fragments, may never get written.
We are managing this – I am calm, I am on
other territory, a kitchen of plenty,
school problems solved, pencils sharpened,
the lesson memorized. “Did I do it right?”
she asks of the math review, I am calculating the lesson—
Motherhood, this sudden test. Unprepared,
untutored I am telling her the grade isn’t important,
it’s what you learn, what you can take with you.
from Wild Greens