After Jules and Jim
1. Summer, 1962, Brooklyn
M., H. and I, three friends, stayed up late
talking all night before we slipped out
to the silent streets again at dawn.
As H. and I played at Jules and Jim,
wearing my rolled up striped trousers, M.,
in baggy sweater, was Catherine,
a femme fatale, thin mustache drawn on–
still beautiful, dressed as a young man.
Was H jealous? Devoted to M.,
lusting for her, I shared this with him…
My father found us in the morning,
of playacting, innocent fancies
conveying the trappings of romance:
running around in silly costumes
under some pitiless cosmic gaze,
we earnestly desired to seem doomed
as those three sad lovers in the film.
2. Winter, 1966, Evanston
She was pregnant (not by me), M. wrote,
and so I took the very next bus
from Iowa to see her, to help–
to do what? To moon some more over
my lost chances with her in the cold?
Winter was one way of facing that truth
on the North Shore of Chicago where
I’d felt lured, at well-below zero
when I arrived at her single room.
Too soon, we went to her friends’ party,
me, still wired; she, withheld all the way.
We never were alone together
in that house of the friend she’d marry,
as predicted by my cold nightmares.
After we left, took another bus,
I could only sit and watch, appalled
at her flirtations with the driver–
(another black driver’d “knocked her up”).
3. Autumn, 1973, Nowhere
When I first heard the terrible news,
I picked a stone from a cindered path,
like the one we’d gone down years before.
“Once I held the smoothest stone,” I wrote,
“after a while, I felt we were friends.”
Unlike that stone, she couldn’t be moved.
She got married, kept the child; three years
later, they moved to his family farm…
With all that past particularized,
I didn’t know how much pain would flow
in any other way: first, to be
memorized; then, memorialized–
a blank surface from the start, now warmed.
Eventually, I arrived again
at her hands, come to rest before sleep–
at what we’d once been– with nothing left
between us but warmth, rising like ash,
while my eyes stayed focused on the end.