|Nov/Dec 1999 Poetry|
You're good with girls until they want something from you. Then you get jittery and nervous and awkward as an old friend at a funeral. Knowing this, you learn how to keep their interest, while eliminating their expectations. You research by reading paperbacks about witches and submarines. Pretty soon you too are shallow but impossible to put down. You have relationships that last as long as a vacation, others as short as a plane flight. For a while you might describe yourself as happy, but then you notice something about the difference in the way you feel for the x-vacations versus the x-plane flights. Truth is, you like the vacations more. Sometimes you even miss them. It must have something to do with time. So you decide to stick with the next girl for a while, regardless of whether you like her, telling yourself she is more like an experiment than anything else. This makes it easier. You experiment a lot. Then you go to lunch with a friend and when she kisses you good bye on the cheek you are in love. It's as simple as a sensation. You're young, far too stupid to be in love, and treat your feelings like a traveling saleman, ignoring their knocks. This lasts for two days, and then you find the girl whose kiss blitzed your cheek and wade into her as if she was a rough sea. Time passes. Not only do you still love the girl, you suspect she might love you more. This realization swallows you like an undertow and you panic. Without offering any explanation you sleep with the next girl you see and cling to her like she was a life preserver. Your cheek has never felt so neglected, but you treat it like just another slighted salesman while the new girl distracts you long enough for the one you love to swear you off like you were instant coffee. You stay with the new girl for a few months, mechanically clicking through your emotions like a slide show projecting on just a white wall: things are blurry and not clearly defined. What you need is the proper screen. Trying to focus, you overcompensate, making the picture a tight box you decide not to enlarge. You leave, but this time offer an explanation. It's the most selfish thing you've ever heard. By then it's Spring and the girl you love is dressed in her best color, making your cheek twitch. By then it's too late. By then you're dead to her. The second girl gives you a book that looks like a journal. It's brown and has metal edges and a hard cover that's bound with canvas. She tells you not to open it for a year, and leaves without saying anything else. You do what she asks because you're disgusted with yourself. Eventually you forget it exists. More than a year later you're unpacking in a new apartment and find the book. It looks like a friend's tombstone. Inside it are poems, most of them written by her, a lot of them about you. One is called "Axioms," a list of ten items she wrote about herself. Nine is, "If I tell you I love you, you must leave." Ten is, "If I write you a poem, I'm telling you I love you." On another page is another poem: this one about how you treat people. A long poem with four stanzas, the third stanza is only, "Everyone is just so damn disposable." You close the book and look around the strange place you now call home, feeling as withdrawn as an out of print book, knowing that the girl you loved has moved away. And that the one who might have loved you just summed you up in one line.