Tokens from a Star-Crossed Quarter-Centurian Affair
Posted September 22 2012
As I pack fragments from the past five years of my life
into cardboard boxes,
my hands touch, my mind turns,
to all the things you gave me . . .
Back when we tried to be lovers --
the year we were both twenty-five.
A safety horn you'd stolen
off the construction site where you worked . . .
You'd scrawled the words 'STAY SAFE' across the aluminum canister
in that awful, craggy handwriting of yours.
You called it a rape horn;
told me to take it along on my travels.
I called you ridiculous;
told you that no one would want to hurt me
-- that, besides, I'm scrappy and can handle myself;
tried to tackle you, and got laid out on my back. Point taken.
As far as I can remember, that horn was the first.
Next . . .
whenever I felt sad without reason . . .
You weren't one for words, you'd said.
But the first time I cried and couldn't say why,
you read to me --
about white buttons,
and mean letters,
and reading in tree houses.
What was that piece called?
I wish I could remember.
A tin box of toffees
with my name engraved across the lid . . .
Your mother, Finder of Trivial Gems,
had given it to you, to give to me.
I kept it on my kitchen counter.
It stored steel wire and screws,
and smelt of burnt sugar and rust.
A hard time about my political views . . .
How many times did you call me an Anarchist,
a hint of a smile playing on your lips?
Often enough that I bought a book on the topic
-- a work by Chomsky, my Hero,
Speaker of Unpopular Truths.
I read it critically, with myself in mind.
and though I gave up halfway through,
I'm pretty sure you were wrong.
I don't think I'm an Anarchist.
I don't think I'm any kind of Ist at all.
A railroad stake,
given with no explanation . . .
I didn't ask for one either.
Just took it, and placed it on the windowsill,
where it sat,
dutifully gathering the dust this city so liberally generates,
and reminding me of my subpar housekeeping skills.
The push I needed
to buy the skateboard I'd always wanted to learn to ride . . .
The scare of my life
when you rode yours through the windshield of that taxi . . .
And a good reason to wear a helmet, though
I still almost never do . . .
Five staples in your head.
I almost fainted, and you
grinning all the while.
I called you an idiot;
wondered whether you had a death wish.
'A big one' --
I got so mad, I stormed off,
leaving you to make your own way home.
A coffee table book on literary tattoos . . .
You said you'd thought of me
as soon as you saw it;
that you thought it belonged with me.
I don't own a coffee table;
I never have, but
that book made me feel seen,
and I meant it when I told you it was perfect.
I flip through it still,
from time to time.
I like the ink with the illustration from The Giving Tree best.
A choice I wasn't ready to make . . .
Unqualified support in my decision,
even though you knew I knew that
-- deep down --
you wished I'd decided differently . . .
And comfort afterwards,
when I felt some regret over what I had done . . .
You promised that, One Day,
when I was ready;
when I was sure;
you would be there, and we
would make something Awesome --
albeit, a bit short and prone to mischief,
more likely than not.
yards and yards of it . . .
You were always messing with that shit;
tying endless knots.
You made me a keychain once.
It still holds my keys,
though it doesn't keep me from misplacing them.
'Boy scout' --
I said, when you'd handed it to me.
You smiled at that,
and suddenly looked much younger;
I thought all those knots must be a metaphor
for something raveled up inside you.
But I was too close to say what. Besides,
whatever was there,
it was yours
-- not mine --
You never asked me
if I would let you tie me up,
or if I would do the same to you.
It's not really something I wanted,
but I would have said yes.
Permission to keep the clipping that I'd cut out of the Village Voice . . .
The one I'd said was for you,
though we both knew it was really for me.
'I Never Loved You
Ask Anyone' --
I stuck it on my fridge with a magnet
alongside several pieces of album art
I found poignant or relevant or funny.
It often raised eyebrows, or questions
-- sometimes both.
I'd never say what it meant;
who it recalled. I guess
we weren't something I could talk about with ease.
Another thing I never said was
-- 'I love you.'
Though, in my own stunted way,
I probably did.
Come to think of it,
you never said those words either.
You said other words.
Like -- 'I adore you.'
You said those all the time.
You said them the night I first let you kiss me
-- the two of us sitting on my unswept kitchen floor.
You said them almost right up through the end.
Until the resentment,
and all those words you wouldn't let yourself say,
began to tear into you,
and tear us apart.
Your final token: a 'No Smoking' sign,
threatening a $75 fine for non-compliance . . .
You'd stolen this too,
from a motel room down in Virginia,
when you went to see your backwards old grandfather.
That was in the spring,
towards the end of our run.
We sat in your hammock
the night you came back,
and you told me how he'd said not to bother with me and my kind.
'Well, that's fucking racist' -- I said,
trying to draw myself up in indignation, as best as I could,
in a swing better suited for affection and ease, than for anger.
You sneered at that.
Rightfully so, I suppose --
we both knew my mother wanted nothing more
than to see me with 'a nice Jewish boy.'
But that wasn't something I could help;
or an issue to which I'd ever paid much mind.
And your tone felt spiteful; your words
meant to wound. You reeked
of Everclear, and beer.
I'd never seen you that way. And though I'd known
-- despite your assurances --
that it would happen, sooner or later,
I was disappointed still.
I hated you in that moment. I thought,
about flinging that sign at your face.