Two of Us

 

The art of our necessities is strange,
That can make vile things precious.

— King Lear: III, ii

 


Prologue

 

 

...and then silence like a lung.
I could not catch the air, and I hung
onto myself dying into a distance
cut close as blades — my hands’ resistance
heavy against wind. Opening an eye
I saw nothing but light and sky
dripping off my body. I was waking
into my new belief, limbs shaking
with speed and depthless tremors —
I was blind.
I felt my feathers
suddenly moist and an aching chill.
Ice crawled quickly through my stilled
wings. What extinguished all the light
on my body? And then pain, and then heat.

 

 

1

 

You must become the habit of yourself
to see an isolated wing beating
its sullied ascension throughout trees,
to hear the feet of mice that creep
through walls and over themselves,
and how they feel the birds’ pattern
of flying between sky and street
with straw and strands of blackened hair.
You are what you learn by heart,
becoming aware of the ones you please
by failing to find and failing to see —
memory like the gathering of chains.
I swear there are ways you can forget
all the world, even your own name.

 

 

2

 

From the beginning we learned to wait in bed,
mattress-warm and messy with our shifting,
our hope, our being awake together,
and she said, "you think he’s here yet?"
In our room we relied on trust,
hearing Mrs. Lawrence’s every flush,
expecting not to feel our feinting pulse,
watching traffic tease along our walls,
our sleepless bodies shaping the sheets,
our living leaning into our living well.
We listened for evening in the evening bells
hungering for lull, and we grew vividly
spectral, softly still, beautiful for his touch.
We accepted all he had and stayed full.

 

 

3

 

I tongue the sore to free its pain,
unshade the lamp to see damage
in my mouth, our bed, the ashtray full
of ashes, reflections of buses pulling in,
the hot bulb’s light on my lashes, her
among the dusk and things that creep
between the cars parked along the street.
I am disabused to a kind of quiet
that doesn’t ask and resembles her voice.
Alone, I believe in its vagueness,
swish of cars, wrinkle of a plastic bag,
the body when it thinks it has disease.
My tongue floods with the flavor of tin.
She is forgetting how to comfort me.

 

 

4

 

It is assortments that matter and not I.
Before I fixed Ramen noodles in the sink,
before I swept the bugs, reordered the shoes,
retrieved some butts and found the pills,
before white released fingers in my skin,
before black could take away and red sustain,
I cupped a mouse fleeing for a crack.
In my hand I pressed its soft neck,
lessened the pressure — in that way ushered
blood from its white mouth. In its sight
did I shed the shadow of black wings?
Its little legs gnawed and gnashed for light.
While leaving, she moved over me last night,
and (thank you Lord) I didn’t feel a thing.

 

 

5

 

Begin with the back of my neck, she says,
and I trace her shoulders with the hanger,
slap her lower back, twist her arm
to press against her hair. I shelter pain,
become fair, am making room for fire.
Now a blindfold, quiver in her spine,
in her knees. I do not stop. Now a gag.
Below her ass, on my own knees, I pause
and she says don’t stop, and her skin
says that, and her body. This is not right,
and I hit her across the thighs and say
you are not doing it right, and she cries
hard trying hard to refrain. I say sorry
and that is the presence of new pain.

 

 

6

 

Don’t rinse the dryness from your mouth.
Ignore the spasms. Only take a sip.
Are you finished throwing up? Hold on.
I brought your favorite: Peanut M&M’s.
a hand in these new hours, a small effort
to assist and clean, to almost help.
For awhile it will be hell, and for now
I’ll be your hands. Let me wash the sheets,
make tomato soup, soak your jeans,
keep you from needing to get up, remove
what is unsightly. You made a common
mistake: mixing crosses with white doves.
Just hold still — it will again grow lovely.

 

 

7

 

We’ve been gentled by October afternoons,
window-light undoing the dark inside
the wallpaper’s pattern, separating
age-marks from dried rain. I made you
wait to see what the decaying might create:
a privacy, a blackened shape, stilled sight.
I could not shut off that light, the waiting
for sheets, for needing your hair, for the cold
thing I always have to have before I stop,
before I turn away from you to sleep,
to everything unlit, our habit of home,
mice inside the walls, need filling
their legs and our study of their claws
that is a way to pause and not to dream.

 

 

8

 

In the lobby, in dusk failing to the dim
and television lights, she spreads herself
through men and movements from the screen,
her bare shoulders and her thin hands,
her feminine calm of being watched.
A trace of music in her veins, she glows,
consumed by visual ghosts, is dark enough.
She often drinks herself to this cold tile,
but here, she is what they need, placed
and similar to something theirs. Awash,
I am only atmosphere shadowed by images,
by love that is the sex of men. I lurk,
and in the end, accept vacancy, having
given love for the freedom of her calm.

 

 

9

 

There are two ways the skin feels cold.
From our mattress on the floor
she rises from me without her shirt
for a shower without heat, and this is safe
cold, inflicted from the outside in,
the success and repose in what we stole,
unwrapping candy, hiding pills, selling
for our own need. The State let her live
as a ward at Thirty-fourth and Gold,
but here the blue light in the window,
always the landlord requiring rent,
and our solution — to offer me up — and her
in the shadow watching me mother
his moment of pleasure. This is the other.

 

 

10

 

And the man across the hall came to life.
He felt my pink arms and my red thighs —
my scars, he said, they would wear off,
and smoothed the spot between his legs.
He drew along my face until we kissed,
my shyness focused on the scents
of paper, sweat, strawberry, and smoke.
We hid from her until we broke repose
and all soft things. We loved by his firm line.
He’d boast that I (or this) was his design,
embarrass me with notions of myself.
Around my cock he was the breath he breathed,
carefully drawing shades, checking the lock
against the hall outside. I never cried.

 

 

11

 

I can hear her clothes lying on the floor,
gnats swarm by light, lights tremble with power.
She is naked and scouring the room
for something that will last. I give more
to waiting than to helping look for
what she is looking for. All my motion
searches the bed for its cold fact. I hear
her concentrating and pretend I am
sleeping. Soon I will feel a shaking,
hear her fraught hands rattle the dresser
from drawer to drawer. Soon she will stop
walking the patterns and will come to bed,
because there is a sound to despair
just as there is no sound in the dead.

 

 

12

 

As the chair settles back to a sentinel,
blinds return to being patient spies,
I spread the light across our silent room,
push milk-crates up against the door
now shut, fill them with blankets
and scurry to my comfortable corner.
Recently I have begun to receive
instruction from the human night,
invisible patterns and the larger dark.
For I negotiated that one dreamed thing
remain unreal, a new childhood by
being still, and I will keep it clean
of the whole outside, while everything
gallops over like the white giraffes.

 

 

13

 

Her smiles now are only seen, free
of happiness, sculpted with the strong love
of the unhappy and only surface in her sleep.
She was the first to ever shoot me up.
She is a body placed upon the sheets.
As I want to be, I go to her,
see lights assemble on the wall, hear
Latino boys laughing from the street.
I do me then her just before the birds’
songs irritate the pain of being up.
I lay into white darkness and alcohol,
and realize my mistake. She is heavy
as I try to shake my love awake,
but coolness keeps me absolutely still.

 

 

14

 

Damp with sleep, their wings draw air
from the dark. They pump and press
into a forest where understanding is
the world of my world, where their voices
carry my stilled voice, swallows
heavy in their throats of dirt and mice,
throats moist with water of creeks and wells.
Their claws are white as pills. These birds
haunt my pulse as they do the pines,
a pain I seek because it’s me they hunt.
I ask them to strew me among heights —
starlight bound to their dead trees.
I am learning how to fly at night,
and am my own shadow when I come down.

 

 

15

 

I’m better now, I mutter through the mask
but mean please, let me go. The EMT’s
flash in and out, complain about the smell.
They lace me into the gurney’s straps,
remove the lights from the window.
Oxygen has the scent of her clean hair.
As they restore my breathing, I cannot see
one cold hand covering my hand.
My thought of me returns and I am scared.
It was within her that I wanted
to fade, but for the darkest mouse
fleeing for the street, for the secret of not,
I find myself simply here. As we leave
the building, I heave for heart and skin
until the technician slips the IV in.

 

 

Envoy - The Way To Dover

 

Sometimes it’s necessary to run away;
we have our needs and shouldn’t be ashamed.
And if sometimes it’s she whose love
we can’t imagine having to withdraw
from, then to flee, the instinct to conceal.
Better to pretend to be crazy, better
to achieve our basest selves than to show
what we don’t show and beg for status quo.
If pity is to sincerely hope we do,
ourselves, not find the precipice
we’ve hidden from our love, we will still
only have what we’ve found comfort in.
And always the bastard we must kill,
and our only prayer: I will endure.

 

 

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