(To F. S.)
I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
Soft as it began,—
I loved my friend.
From The Weary Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 1926) by Langston Hughes. This poem is in the public domain.
Here on my lap, in a small plastic bag,
my share of your ashes. Let me not squander
them. Your family blindsided me with this gift.
We want to honor your bond they said at the end
of your service, which took place, as you'd
arranged, in a restaurant at the harbor,
an old two-story boathouse made of dark
wood. Some of us sat on the balcony, on black
leather bar stools, staring at rows of docked boats.
Both your husbands showed up and got along.
And of course your impossibly handsome son.
After lunch, a slideshow and testimonials,
your family left to toss their share of you
onto the ocean, along with some flowers.
You were the girlfriend I practiced kissing
with in sixth grade during zero-sleep
sleepovers. You were the pretty one.
In middle school I lived on diet Coke and
your sexual reconnaissance reports. In this
telling of our story your father never hits
you or calls you a whore. Always gentle
with me, he taught me to ride a bike after
everyone said I was too klutzy to learn.
In this version we're not afraid of our bodies.
In this fiction, birth control is easy to obtain,
and never fails. You still dive under a stall
divider in a restroom at the beach to free me
after I get too drunk to unlock the door. You still
reveal the esoteric mysteries of tampons. You
still learn Farsi and French from boyfriends
as your life ignites. In high school I still guide you
safely out of the stadium when you start yelling
that the football looks amazing as it shatters
into a million shimmering pieces, as you
loudly admit that you just dropped acid.
We lived to be sixty. Then poof, you vanished.
I can't snort you, or dump you out over my head,
coating myself in your dust like some hapless cartoon
character who's just blown herself up, yet remains
unscathed, as is the way in cartoons. In this version,
I remain in place for a while. Did you have a good
journey? I'm still lagging behind, barking up all
the wrong trees, whipping out my scimitar far
in advance of what the occasion demands. As I
drive home from your memorial, you fizz in
my head like a distant radio station. What
can I do to bridge this chasm between us?
In this fiction, I roll down the window, drive
uncharacteristically fast. I tear your baggie
open with my teeth and release you at 85
miles an hour, music cranked up full blast.
Copyright © 2019 by Amy Gerstler. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 21, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
It’s funny how things come in
You, sitting on a step,
smoking a cigarette,
watching leaves fall off a
slowly stripping tree.
Me, hanging photos on a wall,
including one of you
receiving, like a priestess,
your lover’s confession.
Me telling stories of
when your dad asked you
how you were.
Me writing poems about life
while I was slowly plunging into
You breathing in those
sitting on a step,
smoking a cigarette.
“Circle” Originally published in Readings from the Book of Exile (Canterbury Press, 2012). Copyright © 2012 by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.’
Today I still don’t know
how to fly a kite, or let it
be flown, picked up
and assaulted by the gust
constant as sun rise
in this south that isn’t
south for those who live
here. I haven’t been swept
away either, by any face
or woman’s bare shoulder,
not even spring budding
again after a late freeze,
even though it’s more beautiful
the second time around. Like
that woman you told me about
who smiled once when you
met, and once when you both
turned to admire the distance
between you. She must have
had beautiful eyes, looked
at you without blinking,
squinting out any dust
that would be flying here.
Copyright © 2018 by Curtis Bauer. “Lines to a Friend in a Less Windy Place” originally appeared in Talking River Review. Used with permission of the author.
I have thirty seconds to convince you
that when I’m not home, my verve is still,
online or if I’m sleeping when you call,
sheep are grazing on yesterday’s melodrama.
Does anybody know what the burning umbrella
really meant? Forget it. Tell me what you need.
Leave me a map. Leave me your net worth
for reference. Leave me more than you ever planned.
Frankly, I’m anxious your message will be a series
of blurs, that you’ll leave the endearing part out,
garble your confession: A misstep here, a domain there.
A ventriloquism. The phone is in the kitchen,
but I’ve lost my way. It must be hunting season.
I retract every last gesture for your same retraction.
Copyright © 2016 by Carmen Giménez Smith. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
In today’s paper, a story about our high school drama teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment made me ache to call you—the only person I know who’d still remember his talent, his good looks, his self- absorption. We’d laugh (at what haven’t we laughed?), then not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can’t call, because I don’t know what became of you. —After sixty years, with no explanation, you’re suddenly not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid you might be dead. But you’re not dead. You’ve left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted number but insists on “respecting your privacy.” I located your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that you’re alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters. What’s happened? Are you in trouble? Something you’ve done? Something I’ve done? We used to tell each other everything: our automatic reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes, and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started singing each other “Happy Birthday” every birthday? (Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.) How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude—the easy unthinking kindnesses of long friendship. This mysterious silence isn’t kind. It keeps me up at night, bewildered, at some “stage “of grief. Would your actual death be easier to bear? I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest comedy of errors. “When one’s friends hate each other,” Pound wrote near the end of his life, “how can there be peace in the world?” We loved each other. Why why why am I dead to you? Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less I understand this world, and the people in it.
You came in a dream, yesterday —The first day we met you showed me your dark workroom off the kitchen, your books, your notebooks. Reading our last, knowing-last letters —the years of our friendship reading our poems to each other, I would start breathing again. Yesterday, in the afternoon, more than a year since you died, some words came into the air. I looked away a second, and they were gone, six lines, just passing through. for Adrienne Rich
This is the spot:—how mildly does the sun
Shine in between the fading leaves! the air
In the habitual silence of this wood
Is more than silent: and this bed of heath,
Where shall we find so sweet a resting-place?
Come!—let me see thee sink into a dream
Of quiet thoughts,—protracted till thine eye
Be calm as water when the winds are gone
And no one can tell whither.—my sweet friend!
We two have had such happy hours together
That my heart melts in me to think of it.
This poem is in the public domain.