Half Measures

It’s been years, now, since she left and even
still he sleeps on just half the bed. After all,

it really is easier to make that way, quicker
to hide all evidence of dreaming, like souvenirs

hastily put back up on the shelf. He has become
the tenant of fractioned closets, of half-portioned

recipes, of refracted light. He sometimes tells
himself, like time, there is managing in measure,

absence held in the handspan, the half heart,
the hair’s breadth. For comfort, he remembers

seeing the great Dutch paintings—Dou, sometimes
Vermeer—the immeasurable lives made so nearly

bearable in the frame, slightness like a bird’s
body in a plastic bag. As a child, he used to

count miles on telephone poles while, in front,
his parents spoke in weather-leveled voices.

When he’d told her this she pitied him. When
he would add up all the countries he wanted to

show her, she’d tell him that numbers are such
a man’s way of holding the world, but, when

women love, they love innumerably. Softly,
he’d said he only wanted to hold her. He’d never

admit how, against her body, he felt so desperately
proportionate, how sometimes he would lie

along the bathroom tiles as though the seams
and scale would make him somehow bearable

as a painting, would hold him. Not because
he needed holding, but maybe just to know loss

could be traveled, as he watched planes scrawl
across the unbound blue through the window.

So often, these days, he thinks of grief in terms
of distance. Carefully plotting out the lengths

involved in the longing, he imagines himself some
ancient philosopher slowly dividing the distance

toward home, thinking of a child’s hands, still
sticky with the juice of a poorly sectioned fruit.

How impossibly small it all can seem, small
like distance, halved, and halved, and halved again.

Copyright © 2018 Patrick James Errington. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.