Heartbroken in Your Memoir
Thank you for immortalizing me
in half a sentence, while you, the protean
go-getter, feed me soup, jasmine-tip tea.
If I were to meet my 21-year-old self
now, I’d never befriend her, but you fell into my lap––
literally––the night Ryan drugged us & I begged you
to get me the hell out of Lowell.
Thank you for that & for your Lady-of-Shallot look,
for being the only girl I kissed at the lesbian party
we’d waited all fall for, somewhere
on the Lower East Side, almost too east
to count back then—when Queens was still cheap,
my life a milky white, opaque & vague.
Who among us hadn’t been compromised:
one morning waking up saying to nobody,
how did that happen? Then walking home
in the same clothes we’d laid out
the day before, in shoes not meant for distances
or daylight, past everyone with headsets
commuting to Wall. After six months
you left & I moved to the R’s last stop,
my apartment so close to the tracks it shook.
Venice is Sinking
and so am I––into this wrought-iron chair––
distracted by laundry, a stranger’s blouse blown stiff,
and my own mosquito-wrecked legs: that’s what I get
for getting lost in the half-light.
There was a rushed introduction, the Giudecca
slack, sky-colored. No, I’ve never been attached
(infatuated, yes, but not attached). I ditched Dawn,
my only friend, when the Carabinieri
caught wind of her hash. Or I broke a glass––
not in anger, by accident, a tongue in my ear.
Then the crowd disappeared with the pigeons
that would eat from my hands if I let them.
Between Pound and Olga, the violinist,
is a lush laurel I watered with wine.
For him the laurel means enlightenment
even in San Michele, where there are no woods,
a shrub here and there by a gravestone,
but for me––the state I entered was treelike:
I was lying on my back on my hands,
I didn’t ask for it, my head
floating farther and farther away.
I was counting backwards from a thousand in Italian
and on the grass a dirty skirt.
As the vaporetto passed San Vio’s soap-smooth posts,
I nearly tossed myself over. Another A Lume Spento.
With tapers quenched, I walked out
of the dream I was stuck in.
O moon my pin-up,
how I wish I were a woman frescoed
in a loose dress, pulled by the hair
to heaven. Or Titian’s voluptuous Virgin
rising above everyone who tries to touch her.
Red gown, blue shawl, her gaze always God-ward
she can’t bear to look down.
I blame the diaphanous water,
the way the light struck my face.
Outside Wagner, afternoon bells.
No, not forlorn
––nauseous on a mosaic floor,
unmoved by the view
a caged man once longed for:
Santa Maria dei Miracoli’s jewel-box façade,
the limestone siren with her nipple up
Yes, beauty is difficult.
And some days are dreadful without wind or rain
or paradise painted at the end.
Jen says she’s
an inadequate one
on bed rest
The weaker vessel,
according to the nuns
who taught me
from first grade onward.
Sisters of Saint Joseph,
founded by six women
in a small kitchen
in 17th-century Le Puy:
among them, an orphan,
of course, a lost
a war widow.
Is that (widow-turned-
nun) even allowed?
In Rochester I’d known only
the opposite, failed nuns
who married, then sent
their girls to my school.
During the French Revolution
this congregation of women
fell apart, their convents
in honor of God
or maybe Mary in Dauphine.
That transatlantic journey
post-revolution must have been endless.
How many had scurvy?
How many died
en route to New Orleans
aboard the Natchez
as vulnerable a vessel as any?
How many looked up
at the sky each night
never more aware
of its emptiness?
Summer in Kittery
For pity, for the passerby who might point, I’m wafting around in a nightgown.
When did winter become rain in sheets, August, the lilies unwither themselves?
How they open to overwhelm the others that give in, tired of night, of lasting.
The ocean dulled, gull-less, nobody’s passed, not a single dinghy––I look through it for too long
for the man who, come dawn, will set himself on fire by the shipyard.
A woman watching, I’ll read in the paper later, will mistake the gasoline poured over his head for seawater.
What I can’t see in this dark I know from memory: honey locust, stray, wait-a-bit
thorn, then Nate glowing from darts, a few drinks, the moon’s residue on the shirt that looks like Easter.
I feel for the missing button halfway across a bridge dividing two states––no, bringing them together.
Rodin’s Fallen Caryatid
She’s collapsing under her big stone:
woe, love, whatever. Vase, urn, bowl,
the cup made of hands at the brook
––what holds is hollow.
Does a child ever recover
from losing the vessel who bore her,
pushed her out of one watery world into this?
Is it an image of damnation?
A grave woman contorted,
knocked over. And yet
we see her grace, her goddess-
smooth curves yielding to the earth.
Is it the stone––what she holds—
or the weight of her hollow body that betrays her?