New Grace Poems by Neva Kares P. Talladen

Published 2007-2017


It’s strange now that I have
just become old enough to forget
that I find myself wondering
about you, the boy ten years ago,
and the spider you brushed from my hair.
I suspect you had put it there
for good measure after I
broke your pencil when you
called me a liar when I said
I could see angels.
Something felt funny
somewhere in my head, and then
there was the remorse in your arm
brushing my left eyelid gently.
Now I shake my hair back
and I think I see you trying
to pull a fast one; my fingers
tremble at what they might find then.
Nothing. There is only the smooth
parting clean across the plain
black tips that cut bluntly
into my nape. I look up
as if I could meet your eyes,
give you a glare or maybe
that thank-you stuck in my throat
after you reached over to retrieve
the spider tangled in my hair.
My head stops frozen again
for your raised palm
showing the half-grown creature
clinging to it, the saved thing
I look for just above me, moving
down where I can see it.

Indian Burn

I held out my arm.
The invisible bruise stings,
my skin sore. Stretched memory
of your hands that could cuff
my wrists, snap, or hold them
together. Yesterday I took
the telephone apart, piece by piece,
and put it back in working order.
I had touched the copper wiring
without tripping the others,
my little finger sliding
comfortably through the tangle;
I could have been defusing a bomb.
All you'd done so far was unscrew
an old flashlight to take out its bulb.

Still, I was afraid when you took my arm.
You don't know what an Indian burn is?
There was the twist;
I thought you would break me.
But I came out of it whole
and silent; I was thinking
of all the people I could save
if I joined the SWAT team,
learned which color wire to cut,
how to run my weightless finger
through its length, undisturbed.

That wasn't even half as strong as I could go
(Still, the skin you gripped was burning)
A landmine could go off with the way
you touched, your careless hands
spinning a silent whirlwind around us.
Even my fist would become stone
you could pick up to blind a bird with
or send skipping across the water until it sank.


We get off the bus short of our stop,
the road ahead barricaded.
Noise starts for the twelve-hour shift
at Metro Train Tunnel E. I stroll behind
a slow couple wearing
matching rainbow-striped shirts,
standing close to each other
like color bars. The man
teases, the woman breaks away,
laughing. She shouts. Your name
jumps out at me like cold water.
The man pulls her close, nuzzles her neck.
He is nothing like you.

Your face, which has started to blur:
shaky Polaroid smile, distant gaze,
that self-possessed Jean Reno slouch
as you turned away from me
that last time. I turn the memory
under my tongue, flip it right side up,
roll it to taste. I bite the corners
again, sharp edges slowly wearing down.

I am careful not to open
my mouth; your name
might burst from me
like someone who had too much
to drink. I'm starving, you see,
and I've swallowed you whole,
still burning in my belly.

The couple ahead starts to move faster,
leaving me heavily behind.
The woman, suspicion in her eyes,
looks back at me. She knows.
She can smell blood
in my mouth from miles away.


There was no prelude,
no meeting of eyes. I was staring
into the stark Budweiser
on the dashboard when I felt it:
the full force of his blue eyes
so suddenly level with my gaze,
warm breath roughly
pushing against my mouth.
It was over in a second.

When I got home, I found
a shirt hung over a chair
beside the bed he slept in.
The smell of him
in that old Indian plaid,
the only tailored one he had,
the one he had worn the last
night he'd been here---
the only thing he left behind.
And me, of course,
with all of the 100% coarse
cotton material creased
into my stinging face.

It was his breath
on me again, his hand
squeezing my arm.
It was the way he turned
his head; the slight shift of air
under me. For a moment,
I was an old woman, putting
every detail of that moment
into place, looking back
to see how long
I could keep you there.


A quarter-of-an-inch turn
to the left while standing in line
by the glaring grocery counter,
another minute smoking
on the benches by the parking
lot, a few more strides
in the crowded corridor after rain;
you could have seen me,
given that compulsory nod,
that flag-raise of the hand
at half-mast. Maybe I'd have smiled
and walked off, maybe for good.
But I turn the corner,
look at an interesting book
(Werner, "Sociology of Small Groups," 1995)
on the nearest shelf or walk off
to an imaginary errand;
a blur of white almost crossing
you path, faceless like passing trees
outside a car window early morning
on the South Expressway ---
you can't hit what you can't see.
I'm moving as fast as I can.
As far away. As long as I can.
I have every intention of losing you.


There was no way to keep you still
when that leg hurt. It was probably the cold nights,
local beer still ringing in your head, or maybe
that long walk we had through town,
stone-sober, money tucked safely
in our socks (the crowd and cheap music
were all amusing to you, as long as we
were walking away from them).

Maybe it was boredom. The unmovable patience
of the place woke you earliest in the morning:
the wind moved among the trees
instead of through them; no rustling proper
to a garden in summer. You'd have less
to complain about, following the clouds
like passing picture books: an old man, a horse,
a Buick---you believed in change.

It was only my silence that you couldn't rescue.
And I would wait everyday for that click on the gate,
for that long last look, that never-again note
on the table. But this summer has set
you off again, kicking dry leaves around
like a madman, trying to make me
cry out like a proper madwoman.


The clock mocks me. It isn’t time
I count by. Days are a million twenty-four-hour
breaths each, pounding away like stone hammers
on the tin roof, refusing air as soon
as it enters. I inhale, and already
it’s been hours of raw heat that won’t pass
rising from throat to mouth
to the memory of your eyes. Breathing out,
weeks come careening around the corner,
blindsiding need for your blinding hands
on my breasts, my thighs. They ache to touch.
But I’ve been a cripple the moment
Sunday backed out of the driveway,
took you with it until I couldn’t see
the wide plain of your back. I glance
up the window through to the wall:
it is only tomorrow. But the body,
Incontinent Fool, still knows better. My heart’s shut down
while mind and lung work piston-duty to keep me
alive until Mercy comes handing you back to me.

Published in Eros Pinoy: An Anthology of Contemporary Erotica in Philippine Art & Poetry (Hardcover), Anvil Publishing, 2001

Letters to Myself


You'd hate it here.

No heat in Boston this time
of year, not along the Charles, the streets above
or under the still-gray trees. The crows resent this
and brashly show it, swooping down
on my ear that first morning ---
a hostile mistake. Or maybe a demand
for something I hardly use.

Down the T you could drown out
the mad street-corner prophet
with the booming of the invincible subway.
Then the ghost cars carry you
through the minutes in stopped-ear silence.


Last Wednesday, up Newbury,
a blur to my right: pink-haired
and leather all over, a girl
on the front steps, smoking.
She had no arms, her toenails
bright red.


I feel I belong here in the cold,
my limbs learning to stand
the wind. I'd pretend I'm exhaling
Camels with my frosty breath
(Lights, the brand you twirled
with your fingers before you quit cold, Turkey).
Even the crows are fuming
through their nostrils; they disappear
with a flapping like those pages of old paper
blown away from your bed
(Have you found them?)

This sound has startled me
a few times before. Now I just turn my head
to the side, usually to the right.
You get used to it like sunsets
at eight in the evening and static
and fried eggs with garlic and paprika.

You get used to everything.

Published January 2004 issue of Netauthor's E2K

Minute Dinners

Suddenly silent together
in the middle of dinner, I resort
to picking out raisins
from the Caribbean rice
that took a full-minute travel
from box to the table.
The best-buy-supermarket kind
too hot, too fast,
it gave me time to hear
you every time you shifted in your seat.
And I'm surprised with a thought:
you love raisins, but I didn't
think of you when I pulled
the box from the instant gourmet
shelf, in fact, didn't know I had it;
just reached into the cupboard
today and felt right angles
between the ketchup bottle
and hermetically-sealed spool of floss.
I have no aversion to raisins
in particular, but I don't
want anything to do
with preserved fruit sucked dry
of its pulp. Things like these
come up during minute
dinners that mostly find
me already full, sitting across you
nothing else to mind
but the fork, the clatter
and the stillness after that;
but myself, trying to remember
why I shouldn't leave
the table before you were through.
It's not etiquette I'm talking about.
It's you, crouched over your food
the way you're doing now,
never needing to look up to see if I've left.
It's me as I push raisins to the edge
of the plate, grating forkfuls at a time.
You might want them later.

Lunatic on Valentine’s Day

It’s always been a lunatic dream
of mine: I’d go back to that afternoon
we first met, when we were scrawny
and crop-haired and indifferent,
sit through that marmoset poem
-- poor, incarcerated marsupial mirroring
a couples’ desperation --
sit next to you
through the formalist lecture
tuning half-ear-half-eye to you
without missing the dramatic
situation, leaning slightly against you
as the professor reveals
how the Littlest Prisoner
released grief from the walls
of the couples’ self-imposed silence.
I’d ask, do you see,
this is when it all started,
here is where you hold my hand?

After Milan Kundera’s
Unbearable Lightness of Being

The woman-child
in the wicker basket
you caught drifting
towards the foot
of your bed,
she is yours.

You own what you call by name.
From the first clean words
roundly falling,
freely forming
in the half-dreams
of this consumptive night,
you have summoned her.

Now she knows you
in the blinding
clarity of senses
when a fever tides over.
She recalls
your body stretching out
beside her, fingers
grazing breasts,
the waver
of your voice
in the learning
of her name.

Her coming
pulls you down
in the undertow
of weightless words.
You are caught
in her rising
and falling,
the drawing
and passing
of silent breath
from life to life.

Now you cannot turn
in your own bed
without breaking
in the flood
of her touch.

Other days,
you would have
sent her away.
But in the half-light,
you surrender
to the shape
and salt
of her body
flowing in time
with the unhurried
shifting of tides.



Nobody here
looks someone
in the eye,
except to haggle
with vendors
over a pork cutlet
two lines less of a kilo.
Or the price
of an ungutted fish
already turning pale
at the gills.
Even then,
the eyes merely pass
across the face,
resting occasionally
on a shiny forehead,
or a wet fly
in the unkempt mop
of the butcher's hair.

Their Sunday-morning faces
bare and heavy-lidded
under a week's worth
of obligations, meet
at a safe periphery,
so that no apologies
will be expected
for muddied slippers
or eggs broken
against the bosom
of some girl hurrying
behind her mother.

Here, in the crush
and grind of bodies
there is enough room
for accidents.


At an open stall
by the entrance,
the regular customers
take a pinch
from the mound of rock salt
which an old woman,
half-blind with the strain
of sorting out dried sea
from the sand,
patiently piles
in her bilao
running her palms up
against the sides,
and towards her.

None of them will buy
even a ganta of her
rough grains,
but they all know
what it tastes like;
the sound it makes
when gritted between
the teeth, crunched
by the molars,
the slow, seething pain
when passed over
the sores on their tongues.

And there will be no pangs
of guilt, or accusations
from those who see
everything from the corner
of their eyes. There is only
the rustling sound
of fabric in old pockets
where they wipe
their fingers clean
of tell-tale

Miles From the Harbor

I sit on the prow
and grasp the tired
wooden oars
that hardly yield.
I dig them into the water:
twig-arms struggling
against the slow-cresting
muscles of the sea.

Miles from the harbor,
my boat stalls.
WInd touches me
from behind.
I watch in deepest night
those floating lights break
steadily across the shore
like a sudden
white wave caught
in palm-leaves---fireflies;
Winged patterns
weaved through the briny air.

Bent by watery refraction,
they might have been lost
lantern lights skimming
towards my boat
or the smallest scattering
of petals over
the sky-borrowed

In this ocean beyond
ocean of paper-weight creatures,
one unretrievable moment,
a passing cloud
the surreptitious
blink of a star
may let some careful
code silt unseen
in the turning breakwater.

But the waiting,
my hands on the stilled
oars, leaves a vision
of the heaving sky
at my feet.
And in my chest,
thin as moth-wings.


Faint voices from
the late-night movie
picked up by the distant
engine of the occasional
car speeding along
the main street.
We live very close
to the edge
of the village,
the station
no more that half
of half-a-mile
from our house.
I would listen
to rattled train cars passing.
Then, there is nothing again.

In the dark,
the sound of breathing
is better heard.
I press my ear
closer into the pillow
and see snatches
of words thriving
from my waking dreams.
But I do not recognize
them, still insist
they were yours,
no matter how you
patiently help me
to remember;
I only laugh
in time with the hollow
thud of the pillow
I turn over and over
on my lap.

I stop to see
dust rising to meet
my eyes. The sting
reminds me of old
They prick the backs
of my ears like a thousand,
tiny needles.

Lucid Dreaming

Steady, your breathing beside me
says no one breaks through the door 
no wind shatters the glass
no ceiling 
no wall 
collapses around us,
not tonight.

You close my eyes,
on and off I let sleep in; 
we couldn’t be so different
from what we dream:

There’s always the running after
and running away

There’s the familiar noise
in a foreign tongue

There’s the shifting and moving
from one scene to the next,
the same sun, a compass,
pulsing beneath our feet
through iron ground.

What’s Hard To Do

Something's wrong, he says,
and touches me on the shoulder.
When I was younger he'd
hold me tight until I felt
safe enough to cry.
Right now, facing him,
I am taller, years closer,
world-wiser. It's hard for me
not having to tilt
my head way back anymore
to meet his eyes,
his old silence, the mute
Fender guitar in the garage.
In a moment, when I turn to him,
his hand will slip away so fast,
it might have been just the wind.

I think about taking it now
as simply as if I took it everyday.
To let him know, I know ---
it's hard not to be young enough
to cry anymore, to stand
straight enough not to be held.
Hard not to be like my father,
who finds it hard not to forgive.

Morning Ritual

This morning I fit my sneakers
again before wearing proper
shoes. Rugged and tractionless,
they are two things the world
has forgotten about me;
being the oldest
survivors of my reclusive
adolescence give them the privilege.
My fingers still tangle with the laces
as if I'd just learned how
to tie. I still struggle. I still bite
my tongue. I still tie
the knot twice. And then
I kick them off,
and the double thud
on the floor wakes
me fully, suddenly,
as if this were the first time
for my feet to touch ground,
for light to embrace
everything that can be seen,
for whatever it was
that came through for me
and held fast until this moment:
eye-to-eye with myself
through an open door,
barefoot, unafraid,
but in terrible awe of the next step
to what I may
or may not become.


A grown man’s mouth
suckling on a tit
reminds me of that morning
I found my mother, left breast in hand,
spilling her milk into a bowl. Releasing
the heaviness from her nipples,
she let me watch
as if teaching me a lesson:
there is no relief.
Desire leaves nothing behind,
nothing whole. You pay
with what you have twice over
until one day you’re caught alone
in a room, womb hollowed,
without trace of the thing you wanted
save for the crease in your hand,
the cut on your cheek.

Published in Philippine Free Press, October 2008

Mother Meets Child

Father’s hand is on Mother’s belly,
its caramel stickiness seeping
into the silk of her Shanghai dress.
“I think the little one would enjoy
his first time here,” Father says,
pointing pink cotton candy stick
to the wild bloom of tents
before them. Mother
purses her lips into a small
smile, quietly watching
the red-yellow-blue tide
flow around them.
Her eyes follow a thickening
gush of hats and pigtails
toward a large tent. The sign
above says “Wonders of Nature.”
Father takes her elbow,
and they move with the others
through the dark slash
dividing wonders from the mundane:
Siamese twins joined
at the head, four-armed
knife-jugglers, spiderwomen.
But Mother only looks
at a boy on a cot, torso raised
on pillows to align with his
enormous head. The Elephant Boy
rolls slowly to his side,
his mouth a tiny o
at the effort. Around the
glass case, children point
him out to their parents
who whisper about him
to other parents. Mother meets
his eyes. She doesn’t move
when Father puts his arm
around her shoulder.
Father touches her belly once again.
For the first time, the Child inside her stirs,
rises to the warmth of Father’s hand,
strains to see the wonder
that Mother’s heartbeat sings.

Poacher-Killed Deer

The way it lay on the patched leaves,
rib-shattered, eyes open,
it's as if the deer owned the land
it fell on, so still among wood,
rock and sandy air.
It takes its time,
keeping hours
measured in small
silent chattering,
transfixing the sky in light
and in the slow wave of darkness.
A hoof is poised
to move to the last turning
of air in the trees --- many-fingered
dew to palmed leaves.
Breath seconds-short of its death,
I lie on the ground to see
what it sees.
The deer, still warm beside me,
is forever turning away,
the unblinking landscape
safe somewhere behind its eyes.

2nd Place, 1998 Pen & Ink Poetry Contest

New and Unpublished


The last letter he sent me
had a diagram for a wooden chest
he wanted to make.
I didn't have the heart
to tell him I didn't like it;
I just didn't write back.
His final written words
to me: "We can make this better."
A month later, he was gone.

My cousin held the phone 
to his ear that final night.
My brother sat across me
as I listened on the other end.
It had all the makings
of a dream: the heat
of the Blackberry against my ear, 
the silence as only another person
could make, the wetness
blooming in my eyes,
gushing down my chin,
this strange voice
I was surprised to learn
was my own, asking,
begging him: stay.
His letter sits in my box.
I knew he was disappointed,
but he never let on.
Not even when I tried
to apologize the last time
I visited him.
One look from him,
and I knew to talk about
something else instead.

My worst conceit was hoping
that time would wait
until I was ready to move.
And since it wouldn't, 
I try to petrify moments
the way I know: drop phone calls,
put off replying to letters,
stay away from home
as long as I can
until a creeping dread sets in
until a nightmare jolts me awake
until the news breaks the silence,
and makes the decision for me
until there is only one 
possible move left,
and I take it, and I scramble,
and I kneel, and I hear
his words in my own voice:
we can make this better,
we can make this.

Always of the Mother

The mornings are turning colder,
and I find myself watching for sunlight
across the scratched floorboards
of my mother’s home.
With age, the sun is becoming
a welcome friend,
projecting tree shadows
disturbed by darting bees 
around the hive.

My mother doesn’t sleep much,
forever resisting the body’s urge
of nocturnal rest.
She says it comes from working
as a nurse all those years.
I think the dark frightens her,
brings out nightmares;
leaving her family for work,
the all-hours emergency evacuations.
I’m uneasy lying next to her,
but it’s the only way she’ll
close her eyes.
Her body struggles until
I wake her, but as always,
she doesn’t remember.

She can’t go back to sleep.
I know she worries
about me, unmarried,
oblivious to the obligations
that bind mother to daughter,
daughter to family, wife to child.
In the dark, her mind racing
she must have inherited it from
someone — and I know,
she is appalled,
but also strangely relieved,
at my indifference
to the things she’d once wanted.

What is it that has made
her enemies with the night?
Are all women compelled impossibly,
irrevocably, by biology alone?
Must the imperative to life
always mean the sunset 
of another, and always of the mother?

In the darkness, the hive
thrums, constantly moving
around the Queen,
the begetter of life. The drones
sacrifice, the soldiers die
in the wasp invasion, the gatherers
starve in the cold. But life,
the Queen, keeps,
gestates in this darkness
glazed over, seasoned 
with the sticky sweet
golden memory of the sun.

Dog, Sleeping

And in my dreams, I talk.
I move my lips and you understand
when I describe the mist
hanging above me, the shape of it---
that is your smell. It's you
I carry from your bedclothes
and discarded socks.

When you go there's a gnawing,
holes inside large enough
to fall through,
a world of longing to scent you
through all the prickling strangeness,
empty stretches.

In my dream we keep
the same time.
In my dream, you stay.

Walking together,
the world -- all of it -- belongs to us.
I belong to you.
Because all the universe to me is you.
I can tell you this and we talk
for lifetimes in my Sleeping.

In my dream you say "go,"
and I run. My body picks up
some far moving thing.
I am after it, looking back
to call you.
The words escape
and fall,
one, then another,
useless on my lips,
immovable black lines.
Mute, I wake. I return to you
because you said,
because you asked.


The weather was mild
but I could hear boiling.
My lids were raw, shutting
out an image forming.
I didn't want to see.

Your face was made for light,
your eyes had an afternoon calm.
I could see you at dusk, maybe,
framed by the last radiant spokes
of a sinking sun.
Not like this, not in the night.

Not in the night when September burst in.  
Not in the cold dread of a late phone call,
snapping me awake.
Not in the long wait, the litany:
it can't be him
dear lord,
it can't be him
No details, but I knew it was true.
The darkness burst you.

There were the nothing moments,
I remember everything now:
that time you asked if I believed
in life as roaming energy,
waiting to be transformed.
I brushed off the strange urgency
in your voice,
told you not to worry,
you'd outlive everyone we knew.
It's your large earlobes, I said,
that's what old folk say.
You seemed assured.

Then the dreams started:
your back is turned to me.
You won't look back,
as if you had to face
something so important,
you had to face alone.
I'd call out to you,
try to tap you on the shoulder,
turn you around.
Always, you're just out of reach.

A sudden rage fills me.
I want you alive,
--not this bullshit about your spirit
in our hearts---alive!
toiling in the everyday dirt,
struggling like the rest of us,
but I know, unlike the rest of us,
transforming, in your own way,
the endless roaming
into a sacred journey,
fulfilling that pidgin prophecy,
my brash promise, and live forever.
Live forever.

For Alexis


I’d like to think you had adventures
as any self-respecting cat would;
owing no one, no one owning you. Walking alone
or with others, I tell myself you’d survived
as long as it took. Still, it creeps in:
that familiar emptiness, the sound of your name
– did you remember? Calico One, I left you
but loved you. Decades away from me,
you squat there in my still hours,
Pouncing Tiger when I’m least prepared:
The Runt, you, Survivor
with the splayed front paw,
Mellow Green Eyes with the plaintive
call. I still hear you. I’m twelve years old
again, face-to-face with My Only Childhood Regret,
your patchwork self looking down from a concrete tree
as a plane passes. It’s me, I’m here, it’s me.

The Natural

I could never turn
properly enough for the stroke,
to look behind,
see where I started.
It's supposed to be
natural, the one-hander.
Like slapping someone,
knuckle-first, fingers clustered,
outstretched, a gesture
offering something
or sweeping over
something grand

An exclamation point
among groundstrokes,
I knew exactly how
it would look like
when they told me;
I could have named it
myself. Not after violence,
but beauty.

The closest thing
to human flight
without leaving the earth.
A flesh-tree slowly
splaying bottom-to-top
as far as it could humanly reach,
baring trunk and all
-- willingly vulnerable
for precious, powerful seconds --

until the death-grip for a last

a frozen wave
a permanent goodbye
a planned no-return journey
that has a bad habit
of bouncing back
when you least expect.

There are no guarantees
for a successful putaway,
much less if you can't turn
and I can't.
I can't plant my feet
firmly on the ground,
can't hold
long enough, can't open
my arms to slap or fly,
the upward motion
my bearings.

Everything comes back,
hits or misses.
No catches.
It's against the rules.

A Daughter

My biggest fear is giving birth
to a daughter. It's hard enough
to keep an even keel
battling waves of doubt,
no peace inside, never still.
To keep mast with another
ship means countless battles
I cannot win.
With a son, there's an understanding:
he would never be mine.
The world will wear him down
like flint against rock,
and claim him.
But a girl's every pain
will become my own.
She will be celebrated or derided
for how well she hides her strength.
And at night, every night,
she will face her own loathing,
a self-lashing that echoes my own.
There will be no relief.
No matter how I sever myself,
it will still be me in her:
I am her,
she will be me.
If there were a way,
I'd give her life.
As it is, there's just the hope
from every mother
who has come before
that every daughter
will find a way out
from her mother's damning voice.

Sad Things

My mother thinks I write about sad things:
the cat from my childhood, 
lies I had told,
dreams about a dead friend.
She thinks I'm in pain
when I use words like regret 
or write of a deer
in its death throes.

Where we used to live
there were times she'd make me
look at something,
"Keep your eyes here,
just here," she'd say.
She'd talk until the rats 
that roamed our house 
have scuttled back to the open sewers.
She blames herself.

At night, she shuts her eyes
but I know she sees
each waterlogged floor
we've had to dry,
the muddy riverbanks 
she used to cross,
squirming with fat, eyeless worms
flushed out by rain.
She worries that I'm sad.

Maybe I am.
I know what it cost
when she smuggled
my brother and I
out of the quicksand
of old, slow towns;
I know
how she still tosses violently,
knee-deep in nightmares
of worm and vermin.

Maybe I'm sad 
because I can't be the mother
to cover her eyes,
to talk her through
until the horror passed.
Maybe my sadness flows
from my mother's childhood 
that she both laughs and winces at;
from the first marriage
that crushed her,
wrung me out of her at 22, 
allowed her no regret
because of me,
because of my brother.

I'm sad for my mother 
who can't be sad for herself
can't say how much she's given up
how hard she's had to be
how far away her self she can't get back.

The Seer

So you want to know about the future.
An hour from now, it will be the future,
tomorrow is the future,
and the day after that.
You have to be specific.

Did you want to know
if we would still look on each other
with the same esteem,
act with the same care?
Did you want to see
how the hair on our heads
would gray and thin out,
how our eyes would fade,
our lips shrink as if words
were emptied out of them
until nothing's left to be said?

When we were children we thought
death had nothing to do with us
or the people dearest to us.
Even my brother who had died,
three days new to this world,
looked foreign and detached
in his small white box trimmed with gold.
I'd never held him, never smelled him.
He wasn't real to my five-year-old self.

Death is the future.
It's everything to do with us.
Because we are more animal
than we think.
Because we live our stories out,
loving as much as we can destroy.
Because we look to the future
as if it were a destination,
as if it has never happened.
We see each of our selves
collapse into each other,
limited  by the need to choose,
to always move towards freedom,
to live where histories
repeat themselves, winding
us over and over in ways
we will never own up to.

An animal story has an animal ending,
and we all see the future, dear:
it's happening now, it happens
at the last possible moment;
we reach for each other,
as the mind dims, the breath slows,
the heart taken over by a primordial
knowing that words are as good as flesh,
that forever is an earnest promise
we'll keep making
until we keep it in the end.


I told you I was dying,
it wasn’t far from the truth.
I wanted your hands,
your confident wave like a wand,
the ease in your pluck and strum.
I longed to pay with what I had,
and all I had
were words and obscurity.
It was convenient. What could you know
apart from what I told?
It was true. I had a cancer,
something eating me inside,
invading the bones: you,
essential and pure and correct.
You were killing me.
I manufactured prescriptions,
blood-vomit, mastered fainting,
symptoms of slow dying to satisfy the story.
Would you have found me out?
If there had been an epilogue
of my remission, would we be talking now,
this story to tell for the ages, how we held
together, the power of two
or would it be much of the same
in the end: a sort of clarity blindsiding us,
so clear we can see through the other side,
our lives spread out like fire, white lies
that couldn’t cross the distance, all this time?