Thank God for the side streets
Exhaling fog this time of year
Letting me step off the boulevard
And giving me a place to drown
My memories of Adelina.
This landscape is like a video game
I interact with it
Pull mysteries from it
Like silver fish from the blue sea.
Beneath each tile, each rail, each snail
I suspect there is a chance
To trigger dialogue
That would lead me back.
Better the white
Better a blank
Hopeless and upright
All edges gone
Nothing to snag.
It was Adelina’s husband
Who turned out to be
The snake in the garden.
Husbands are awfully keen on me.
He was walking along the shore
Back from a war
A crushed hummingbird in his jacket pocket
On his chest a tarnished locket
Of Adelina’s soft red hair.
“Sweetheart, you better beware,”
He said in a voice as thick as winter jam,
As heavy as glaze ice on a wing.
“Ever want something other
Than a silver spoon in your mouth?”
He said. “You’ll be gone before the month is out.”
“I will not be your man, nor will I be your love.
Honey, you’re just butter to a knife.
Honey, you’re honey, and you stick to my fangs.
If I don’t hold you down, you are everywhere.”
I was on vacation,
I was daring and fierce
I was full of an angry joy
There was salt in my braid from the waves
That teased and bit the shore.
I said, “You’ve been gone a long time.
Do you think there are places on you not good enough for my tongue?
Do you think the back of my throat and you can’t be good friends?”
“Keep asking, keep asking those questions,” Adelina’s husband said.
So it went.
The barmen in the stone halls winked at me
I got in everywhere like smoke and read poems for free
I didn’t let love and her twin sister, pain,
Sit down at my table.
I was exceedingly well-paid
In trinkets and honey and beds.
The thin skin of rabbits hugged my fingers
Until the day I ran into Adelina
With her outstretched hand –
So fine that I took off my gloves
And almost by accident
Felt the pulse of her pale wrist.
“He says you’re a poet –
I came to see for myself.”
The smoothness of her face
Was mathematically impossible.
Free of the locket her hair
Burned like a sunset-dipped halo.
I wanted to say that I wasn’t a poet
Not until this very moment.
We met in bars and talked for hours
Talked until the stars dissolved
Until the weathercock gave us the side-eye and crowed.
Adelina loved books and freedom,
Stitching saints’ medals into collars
Drawing fate on espresso foam
Wearing a chain with bells on a thin ankle
Splashing her cheeks with champagne at dawn.
She took me riding in the forest
It was so quiet we heard bluebells ring.
We lay on the tombs of old kings
High above sea level
And told stories
And imagined the marrow of the old bones beneath us
Leaking, weeping with desire.
Wasn’t it good to be alive?
Adelina’s kisses plump and rich
Breasts to fill a good brandy glass
She tasted like syrup squeezed from moss
And laughed at my metaphors.
She twisted my braid around her neck
Said I was killing her.
Like a shadow I’d crouch at her feet
When it was time for her to go.
“Promise me, promise
That you will be good and famous.
It will be my reward
In this life of wearing yellowed lace.
I didn’t marry well
Though you might disagree
With that last bit.”
One day, Adelina’s husband came
Boots thudding, joints groaning in the evening cold.
He invited me to speak as adults.
He pressed bluebells into my palm
Shredded and melted from his body heat
These sorry gifts
He said Adelina made her choice
He said her curiosity was satisfied
Never come between a man and his wife
Be generous to beggars, pray at night.
I threw the petals into my drink
I got so drunk, but I could still think.
Only one remedy for that
I let him lead me by the hand
To the cellar.
He spat on his fingers and promised to be gentle.
Still I cried, my “no, no” very slowly giving ground
To my “yes, yes.”
He said I had an ass for tearing
Flesh for weighing, too expensive,
Like a stack of veils at a silk merchant’s.
I slapped him for it
But my hand trembled.
I pressed the trace of his mouth on my collarbone
Like a button buried beneath my skin.
Then ran to stand in the light of her windows
Just to stand in those pale, flat rectangles
Imagining they were a magic circle.
Adelina leaned out of the window once
Shook her head, made the sign of the cross
Shrugged. Her hair was like rays of a departing sun.
She turned away and soundlessly closed the shutters.
In my mind’s eye I saw her take down a book
And cross her legs by the fire.
I saw the way pleasure at beauty curved
The corners of her mouth upward.
I vowed that my words would find her.
I vowed to one day be in there with her
Invited in from the cold.
I took the speediest train going north
Tearing through the countryside too fast
To let my eyes focus. It was a mercy.
Still I felt the dead kings rise
To wave a bone-creaking goodbye.
I came under the stone arch of my home
My children rushed out, hugging my skirt
They said it had been too long.
I handed out rose wafers, seashells,
Salt crystals like crowns,
A song I took from the pulsing throat of a nightingale,
Drops of frozen dragon blood set in gold,
Blinking doll eyes, ticking clock hearts,
A rainbow soft as sorbet.
I bought my way out of their recriminations
Flossed their teeth with silver spiderwebs
And put them to bed.
I walked into our garden
My husband was grilling raw meat
Sprinkling lemon juice and cursing his hangnails.
He fed me with his own rough fingers
Traced the insides of my mouth
Undid my blouse
Listened to the irregularities of my heart
Asked me about the south.
I said, “Why does this heart stumble and burn?
Why do I feel as though
It was me you laid down on these coals?
When does it stop?”
“Never,” he said, and smiled into his beard.
“You’re an artist now. You belong to it.”