Late Thursday breakfast, at last I confessed myself
to a poorly-dressed but well-bearded priest.
This priest (I did not catch his name, so I will call him
Father, or perhaps lower-case he),
was a sleepy-eyed fool behind his drugstore specs,
and he did not recall the extent of my sins even after
I recited them from my torn sheet of foolscap.
Distracted, he told me his dreams of
a cemetery of trees,
of branches falling and ravens calling,
and stale mausoleums filled
with herbs and seeds.
There was no place for my words
to brace against his filthy cassock.
He seemed to be an aching arch of rumored bones
and unpleasant knees,
and I was concerned for his soul —
and sagging flesh and ash-stained hands and shallow chest —
as much as I was for my own design of infinity
and the fragility of my possible divinity.
“The God you may know,” he said,
“he is one slow hijo de puta
painting this canvas.”
He paused for effect, which was odd and yet
his breath and, saith he:
“This place is his divine piece, you see,
and we are what he has painted into the corners.
The poets — I see you are one, from your long list
of synonyms to best describe your best sins–
mostly suffer from agraphia when regarding the faith
of their pens.
But I forgive you, I guess, if that makes you less
inclined to bother me with your mistakes again.”
“These are not mere mistakes,” I cryeth,
“I have broken the Commandments, some of them
several times, and one of them in a brothel.
Perhaps three of them in the same brothel,
but at different times.
Can I please be forgiven?
What words can I say, what deeds need be committed
to memory, compounded by shame?
Give me the name of one who can forgive me,
if not you.”
Father and lower-case he, both being the same,
“Son, I have committed these same misdeeds,”
“which is why I myself became a priest.
My poor father. And my grievous mother!
But I could not help myself.
My sins were so wondrous,
and that was the curse given us,
given us all.
To feel good is so shameful, is it not?
And more so when you’re caught,
and even when you ought to know better!
Say twenty-and-three Hail Mary’s and
get thy gins behind thee,
and I will join you, boy, bring your coins with ye, boy!
Even now, in this comedy of errors,
before the devil’s veiled terrors,
I will join you in the brothel,
(and I know that sounds so awful),
but we will chant the prayers of the Lord,
over Scotch whiskey and flaming swords.
I am yet uncertain that it is not a sin,
but pour that gin, boy, and then pour it again.”
With that, he removed his specs
and wiped the lenses with his wet sleeve.
“It has been so long since I last confessed
my own misdeeds,” he said.
“They are sins, of course, a horse
by any other name is still a good wager.
I hear you belabor the forgiveness you seek,
but for cab fare and a peek
at that place downtown,
I will anoint your crown with my useless mercy.
“Indeed,” I said, learning nothing by and large.
“We borrow today to pay for tomorrow.
If you agree to go onward, by tomorrow
go forward, and sin no more.”
“Say no more,” saith I,
and my friend Father and lower-case he,
both being the same,
stepped outside, beyond our prison’d door.
There was no place for my words
to brace against my filthy cassock.
“Say no more,” saith I again
to no one in particular,
and then began to turn away.
Dimitri and me
we lived by the sea
we saw a horizon
hard and infinite
a great ruthless sea
a sea so calm yet god so deliberate
we saw and we drank our darkest wines
and we watched the deepest ships unwind
ahead of us
far beyond us far between us
for a life beyond the greatest hope of us,
for a life we waited and we wished for both of us,
we promised it would be us one day
if courage one day
would be our blessing some day
but Dimitri was killed
in March of 1948
I live in this place
where moon hides the darkest heart of
of foaming arrangements of the remainder you see
the brightest of lights of life upon sea
and my days and nights of Dimitri and me
that wash away
into the sea
of me and Dimitri and we
stay behind and live inside
a soft and infinite sea of us.
Dimitri and me
we live by the sea
and we see a horizon
wide and so infinite
beyond us a sea
of only Dimitri and me.
(Adult themes and language)
The East Coast light was delivered to them each morning on the cheap. It broke apart between the hand hewn beams Joanne loved so much, and then landed on her old West Coast quilt, miraculously complete. Dawn was the first trick of the day, she said: a ragged little something to make you believe you were waking up someplace else, somewhere more rugged, like Oregon or backwoods Appalachia. Goddamn Connecticut, she said. It fooled even smart people into thinking they belonged outside their natural state.
Daniel’s father was not an architect, but he knew how to read a blueprint, how to lay hands upon brick and wood. This place was built as a wedding gift, and the old man died two days before they moved in. It was a heart attack at a traffic stop. Hardly the combative adieu most men hoped for, but it worked as decent after-dinner conversation.
On the first night in their marriage bed, Joanne told Daniel, “I’m the most tragic piece of ass you’re ever gonna find, Danny Boy.”
He smiled and nodded. “Likewise, Jo. I hope.”
They were a reasonably contented 20th century couple, cemented in stubbornness and tradition, until Gloria arrived. They did not invite her, of course, but they knew she would not change her schedule for them. And so they waited on her.
September 27, 1985 – 4:42 a.m.
Daniel at the helm of the bathroom mirror, inside it, stained inside it, exhaling Listerine, objecting to the flat space between the layers of his himness. Who is staring at whom, you might say, that certain cliché: am I real, the real deal, and who is this pretender before my throne? Am I firmly in place, consigned only as a load-bearer, as the pillar holding up all this shit and disgrace until it topples? Awful, yes, to consider there are these light fixtures and shiny polished faucets to maintain, oh, and the codified hand towels and ornamental soaps, the fuck is that about, eighteen dollar dollops of molded soap imprinted with cherubs, and I’m not even allowed to wash my hands with them? and the vodka still rages and it smells a little like mouthwash and a lot like backwash vomit. Fifty-two years old and still acting like a kid sneak-drinking Mateus, hiding the vino under the passenger-side seat of the old man’s wagon, except now it isn’t always vino, and it definitely isn’t rolling around in the back of the Olds. Joanne would have a cow. Is that the right expression, having a cow? No, she would have a fully-formed, prime Grade-A, fucking clot of beef if she knew I was still drinking five-dollar potato vodka. What do you say, Opposite-Me? I say go back to bed, asshole, it’s going to be the shittiest of shit days and she’s going to need you. Gloria’s on her way.
“You okay in there, hon?” moans Jo, her voice a blur, a smoker’s burr, barely aware under the quilt, barely awake but cognizant of his absence.
“I’m good, baby. Go back to sleep.”
“Rough day ahead,” he says, but it’s more to himself, because she already knows that, and why doesn’t he just do the right thing and fucking die already?
September 27, 1985 – 7:18 a.m.
Joanne at the edge of the bedroom mirror, beside it, hiding from her nakedness. She’d put on too many pounds since the Fourth. Maybe since before that, since last Christmas. Or maybe since forever. Fuck. Weight and shame, that’s all this was. All. This. Is. Daniel never said a word, not a tot of encouragement, not a nod of acknowledgement that she was suffering. What do you call this? The Middle-aged Blues? Might as well romanticize it, and why not? Growing old before you could really gather up all the facts of how you’ve lived so far? No one wrote songs about this kind of loneliness, did they? As your husband merrily lives a life outside of you. People have a way of forgetting the ways the other half fades. The primal organism of love, not just the smooth camera-ready surfaces, all the playful erections and generous curves and the wet boundaries of touch. They forget about the chambered heart, the damaged blood, the aching ligaments and the splintered bones. They forget about the ovarian cysts and the broken skin and ugly scars that still look like billboards in the dark. They only see the before and after in the photo album, and they nod and reminisce about the rocket-powered orgasms of newlywed bliss that always always always obscures the disappointments and stained regrets. We are childless, honey, because of me. We both know it and have never spoken it, not aloud, it’s not allowed, even when the other is asleep. And I weep. You know it, Danny, I weep. And you turn over in your sleep, and you turn the bottle over to your lips, and you pretend that we’re both too old for this nonsense, it doesn’t matter. But it matters. It has shaded us. And now we really can’t stand to look at each other, can we? But we do. For the sake of ourselves, we do. Because every morning, we awaken to the terror of our calamity. And calamity is what we know but haven’t quite expressed yet.
Will you be sober for the disaster of today? Because I really doubt you will be, and I really don’t need you to be. Because I know we’re going somewhere together, and I really hope we get there soon.
Daniel, yelling from the kitchen, “Are you ready for this, Jo? She might still miss us.”
His words don’t sound too blurred.
“Hurricanes never miss,” she says. “Who can ever be ready for something like this?” Did that sound like a chant, did it have a sing-song singularity to it, the proper note of resignation? She hoped so.
“I hope my dad built this place strong enough,” he says. “I think we might have a chance if Gloria turns a degree or two to the north.”
“Goddamn Connecticut,” says Jo. “Goddamn Gloria.” And, under her breath. “Goddamn us.”