Evening’s hem dipping into blackness
Like a pen into ink to write
No Trespassing—This Means You
On the sky made me anxious
All my life. I drank whisky, picked up men
In bars and other forests.
At 66, I cosset my fears
Among cats and screens in bed,
Paris Breakfast tea, toast and honey
The rarely questioned certainty
That I won’t mind the coming end
The dirt nap, phoenix attempt
Donated corpse cut open in a crowd
Of like stiffs on the bright tables
By an anxious student unable to discern
Vein from nerve, hacking
My exquisiteness while the violet
Bloom of his shame blots out
The tiny message I’m still sending
Beaming like Voyager, fourteen billion miles out,
Hello this means me hello
Born extra soft-shelled
We recognized each other
Students in the seminar with the not-yet
Famous poet we both adored.
What is the essence of poetry? the poet asked.
Sheened with ignorance like seabirds
After an oil spill, none of us
had the answer.
Love, he said. I carried from the room
Such a light surprise.
How I remember you:
Words hardened to talismans
Worn like shark teeth
Around a tender neck.
Lover ex, x’d again.
You explained why a career
Would come easily to me:
Your best friend, visiting campus,
Said we looked like siblings
But I was prettier.
I thought of my dead brother
With your mouth and the army
Of fears swarming my words
Kibitzing my stumbles.
New York City, mid-80s.
I was married, you lived alone
In an apartment you described variously
As a storage locker for the body
Prison cell for the mind
Soul cocoon. I wanted to see it
But you wouldn’t let me in.
You spent nights driving a taxi,
Barely paying the car rental fee
Dumpster diving, growing thin.
In Manhattan, to run into an old friend
Over and over on the street
Though living in different neighborhoods
Is fate—I lent you money.
“Maybe he cruises our block,”
My husband said.
You still owe me nine hundred dollars.
After a two-year break, we met again
In an AA church basement in Soho.
Around the tables, earnest talk.
You wrestled with the concept of higher power
Self-conscious about humility,
That required virtue,
Bending your intellect to its fit,
Still the village explainer.
I clung to you, then I drifted.
In the nineties, bitterness.
I watched you chop up the old poems
Like cocaine, except this drug,
Consumed, was still there,
On the coffeeshop table, near the pie
Unnerving shimmer, imagery
Reminding me of our raw youth.
Where shall I send them? you asked.
Do you know anyone?
I knew only we were both shackled to grief
Thrashing in our nets of self
Beginning to fail.
I didn’t say that, to you or anyone.
Façade is half the battle.
I had published books.
You married, fathered a daughter,
Got a job writing opinions
For a judge on the appeals court
Downtown. I saw your wife once
At the Knickerbocker
on University Place.
You came to our table in the bar
Leaving her with her parents
Visiting from out of town.
You were still sober,
Fierce as a spurned prophet,
Fat as a walrus.
Never stopped smoking.
How I remember you: so young.
New Hampshire, snow crystals
In our nightingale throats,
Buttons hanging by threads.
Schooled by the best – or so we believed –
Who was it who said
Learn to write by reading
Yours almost embarrassing
Mentioning the famous poet.
The high points you told your kid.
He’s still hale in his eighties
Giving craft talks on Zoom.
I watched him, sheltering in place,
When you were three years dead.
Margaret Diehl is the author of a chapbook of poems it all stayed open, (2011) Red Glass Books; two novels, Men (1988), Me and You (1990), a memoir, The Boy on the Green Bicycle (1999), all from Soho Press. A second chapbook, Exit Seraphim, is upcoming from Ravenna Press in the spring of 2023. She has published poetry, essays, and fiction in many literary journals. She lives in NYC and works as a fiction editor.