He was a boy I saw from a distance:
always sitting against the wall, no one
ever talking to him, his face like
a Russian priest’s face, full of blessings.
He was the boy a nervy girl I knew
talked to one day for me. She got us
together, and it was synergy
from then on. We were floating.
He was a boy who wrote poetry.
He was the boy I would live with
on and off for two years:
a summer at 1 Atlantic Avenue, where the breeze
caressed our bodies, as we lay atop
the quilt I’d taken to Woodstock;
in the flat on East 26th Street
where Barbara pitched a fit at me
for doing some of her dishes;
on the first floor of North 10th Street,
oh the light in our yellow
kitchen, its blue woodwork humming.
I felt like we were living in a Van Gogh painting.
He cooked, and did our laundry.
We had an ice-cold purple bathroom.
The kitchen stove, our only source of heat.
He was the boy who wanted
his, the color of mustard, its bed,
a hard little soldier’s pallet that said keep out.
Mine, red as a womb; inviting as ripe fruit.
He said the mattress was too soft.
It hurt his back to stay with me all night.
Then, out of the blue one day,
he hitched a ride to his old girlfriend’s
and didn’t come back for a week.
In the picture, he showed me,
she looked like a Playboy Bunny.
He said he couldn’t forget her.
I moved back in with my mother.
He was a boy to whom women said yes.
Even the men, who knew him,
couldn’t keep themselves from
remarking on his body.
I tried to stay away, but he
turned up at all the same places.
His fingers did a dance in the air,
and I dreamed of the way
they used to graze my thighs,
the ways he said he wanted me.
The silver pinky ring he wore,
the stag on it always leaping away.
Soon it was a night here
at his place, a night there,
good as it ever had been.
Some little door in me opened,
and it happened. He became
the boy who said no, definitely not.
It’s why I wouldn’t let him come to the city.
The women all spoke so softly there.
They touched my arm, my shoulders,
asked if I was sure, and I said I was.
Asked if he knew and I said, oh yes he did.
Was there any possibility? No, I said,
no possibility. It wasn’t terrible, though I bled
for a long time after. He held me afterwards.
He was a boy who had two sisters
who’d had to drop out of high school
to take care of babies. His parents
fought every day. He was the boy
who had to be vacuumed out
with part of my heart.
I want you to know I survived this.
Everything seized up for awhile,
but then one day I turned around
and someone else looked
back at me from the mirror.
Broken's not the right word for it.
Torn maybe, scarred, marked:
a tattoo you wish you’d never gotten.
In time even broken mends, unless you
aim to be permanent mayor of grief town.
There are some kinds of pain that go away,
and some that settle in so you never shake them.
You live. Wounded. You’re careful
with yourself. So it doesn’t.
Ever happen again.