why you can never go home again
You don’t realize how much water
is in a pint glass until one evening
doing the dishes, an elbow
upends one across the kitchen counter.
By the time you’ve turned your head,
assessed the damage, liquid is rushing
toward the grocery store receipts,
a loaf of bread in a paper bag, down
cabinet sides, pooling on the floor,
rushing out to the no man’s land
between tile-work grooves.
Reaching for a dish towel,
you remember the college professor
who warned, Don’t ever have any regrets.
And pretty soon you’re thinking about
high school track practice – low dark clouds,
rain sparks searing upper arms.
The coach blows a whistle and a platoon
of young men, faded red batons
in-hand lit sticks of dynamite, sloshes
across a sodden football field,
hands the baton off, then tramps back
to be handed that same baton – over
and over and over again.
Now it’s spring, stifling sunshine corpsing
through open classroom windows.
Student council president drones on about
Does-anybody-really-give-a-shit? as you
count floor tiles, ceiling tiles, all the pretty
bare knees attached to all the pretty blank
faces immune to your silent politicking.
You trace an imaginary highway
across the blackboard, through closed doors,
down hallways, stairwells – run out of chalk
just as you’re putting the finishing touches
on your imaginary car. The classroom
empties without you.
Flash forward to the kitchen you shared
with your first wife. She’s watching TV;
you’re washing & drying.
A voice says, How’d we get here?
Ask your wife what she means and:
I didn’t say anything, she replies.
That’s when a dinner plate slips
from soapy hands, its edge driving
into unforgiving hardwood,
imploding in slow condemnation –
so many shards, you don’t even know
where to begin.
Now your wife’s in the doorway,
wants to know if you’re okay.
What else is there to say?
She couldn’t possibly understand
what you’ve only just realized
about all the king’s horses,
all the king’s men.
Amsterdam, fall 1990.
I’m at the Van Gogh Museum,
stoned out of my dome
on psychedelic ink.
Thick daubs of swirling oil, confounding
to solve as trigonometry equations
puncturing my frontal lobe when all I wanted
was to be found.
Lost in Self-Portrait with Felt Hat,
insensate eyes beckoning,
orange beard a flame.
I’ll never write anything this good.
“You want to know a secret?” Vincent whispers.
Amsterdam, fall 2005.
My fiancé and I are at the Van Gogh Museum,
shared bowl of designer weed raining
down confetti. She saunters from canvas
to canvas as I contemplate
A Pair of Shoes, Basket with Potatoes.
Having looped around the floor, my fiancé
returns and, leading her by the hand,
I say, “I want to show you something.”
“Is that a hole in his hat?” she asks.
“Look into his eyes,” I reply,
waiting for our journey to begin.
In a few months on an unseasonably mild
February evening we’ll marry.
Two days after our second anniversary,
another unseasonably mild February evening,
she’ll make me a widower.
“You want to know a secret?”
* * *
These poems originally appeared in Black Heart Magazine, December 17, 2014.