We combined fury with heat.
Our love gave off smoke.
Your mother taught you well.
She caught you up all night
reading True Love Stories, say–
pulps like the westerns
my friend’s father read
drinking wine, while his mother
slept with the boss. One night
her hired-man husband fell
off to sleep and burned down
the house with him in it,
my friend dry eyed telling
the story. And your own mother
miles off, in a city, seeing a cop,
told you to go home to be with
your father pacing, asking you
where she was, did you know
when you said, Daddy, I want
her back and were too young
or something to know drink
had done all this, when Mommy
wept where he quit and stopped
for good but he was too late.
Days your mother rose to work
and the next night the same,
gone again. She gave you a book
of Guy de Maupassant, saying
if you wanted to read about sex
at least read good literature.
Boule de suif serviced the soldiers
stopping her coach in the country.
A brothel full of ladies painted
their nails picnicking by a stream.
No wonder he went to school
to Flaubert: he took a subject
the master preferred to live out
rather than touch with his pen.
The pupil etched the common
in words: the trees on boulevards,
the amblings of flaneurs in crowds.
Maupassant died of syphillis,
his zeal compressed into a style–
as good as any reason to die
after his words made literature.
And your father died of cancer
of the esophagus, having stopped
smoking but again, alas, too late.
I had the good fortune to meet
this Irishman whose life’s love
was his daughter. He was named
for Robert Emmett, Irish martyr
on the gallows, Easter 1916,
singing out, Erin go braugh!
Daddy died slowly, you recalled,
Mommy fucked her cop nightly.
Worked days as usual, praised
your intelligence, and cultivated
your good looks by teaching you
the charms girls use to be women
getting what they want. Or need.
One night, driving the avenue,
through the open window
you told the young man
crossing the street with the light,
If you’re free, would you like
a ride? and in he got, back seat
all to himself, where not long after
he couldn’t keep his body off yours,
and soon you eloped and he drove
you to Berkeley, where you wanted
to begin your new life. Up where
I was living then and mostly alone
nights but never days, there too was
much work to do during our youth.
Still, I got by. There was a woman
old enough to be an elder sister
I followed to her car after we met
through friends of friends,
and embracing she let me put
one hand up her dress, the other
on one breast and then the other.
When our heat wove two breaths
into one sigh and caught it before
loins can rise and flow, we started
back inside but I said I had to work
early and she replied, Me too,
and went on her way. Hence,
after you I lived too much alone
but worked well enough to please
my shadow. And first chance I got
I was in Berkeley walking Telegraph
to a warm bar to drink before a fire.
Ah, here we were, clandestinely.
After time started again, you said,
I must get back, he’s home by now.
I walked you as far as you let me
before you went back into the dark
and I to the pensioners’ hotel
where I had a room for the night.
Your husband called my room.
I went down to the stone patio.
We had words. The night manager
told us to pipe down, the old guys
were calling the desk to complain.
Smaller than I, he chose his words
but I erupted when he lost composure
and now in your late father’s car
he drove off warning me to leave
his wife alone. Your wife? Why?
Don’t you know she will someday
lose her fear of living out her life
with me? You had already said,
What will I do when you leave me?
You followed more of Mommy’s
advice, reading Anna Karenina
and how to be alive when the odds
were stacked high against happiness.
And I, unlike Flaubert, no longer alone
wrote too many words, mostly letters
I never sent but you read them all
years later when we had grown too old
to go anywhere we were not together.
(20 October 2010)