The Address Book; Woman and Girl; The Concert

The Address Book


When it came to the deaths of friends,
my mother’s practice was to x
out their names in her address book. I
draw one diagonal slash, as if the name,
address, phone numbers all were a mistake;
then in the lower right, an afterthought
or postscript or correction: one last date.

The book whose pages I am turning now
offers no such stark delineations
of before and after, lived and died.
Each day lifts up a fresh face all the cleaner
for having forgotten its own name.
Hours, weeks, months, years roll mildly on.
The end’s the same.

Woman and Girl

A slight young woman in a long dark coat
walking toward me at twilight on 100th Street
is clasping in both arms a big bouquet.

She drops its wrapping in the garbage can,
not even breaking stride to do this; then
holds up the now nude blossoms, breathes them in.

A little girl clutching her father’s hand
(finger, rather) as they cross Broadway
looks up gleefully at clouds, squeals “Rain!”

Naked flowers burying one face,
The other tilted back to drink in sky.

The Concert

“I think there’s a pain somewhere in the room,” said Mrs. Gradgrind,
“but I couldn’t positively say that I have got it.”—Dickens, Hard Times

My thoughtful friend imagined the occasion
might perhaps be difficult for me,
scene set for an anguished evocation,
conditions right for painful memory
or bad epiphany:
a concert of new music such as I
had gone to with my husband years ago
often. But no:
this worry, it transpired, was out of place.
My heart had worn as tough
as a rhinoceros’s carapace.
I could slough off
all ghostly resonance. The music played.
I simply sat, let my attention slide
off somewhere to the side.
Yes: the soprano’s name did ring a bell.
These decades later she
was here, almost unchanged, alive and well
and singing sweetly still.
I recognized her: she did not know me.
This was no tragedy.
With the composer in the lobby there,
handsome, with gray hair,
it was the same:
I knew his face and name,
he did not know mine.
I could have walked up to him and said,
“I am so-and-so’s wife. You knew him when.
Now he is in an institution.”
I could have done, but why?
We all proceed with burdens more or less
transparent as years pass.
Mine’s weighty still, but it begins to fit;
and growing used to it
I sigh and shift and carry it along,
apprehensive, wincing now and then,
pausing when a memory is strong.
Pain somewhere in the room. Where is the pain?
Years back we sat together, he and I,
more evenings like this than I can count,
and waited for his music to begin:
phrases shaped in his mind and ready then
to step into the still air of the room
and into time,
which stretched ahead of us as free and green
as a summer meadow or a road
beckoning as far as we could see.
The pain was somewhere else. It wasn’t here—
not in this waiting air,
the music and attention and applause.
Elsewhere: because
at length one does get up and leave the room.
One does go home.
I take my key, I open my front door.
Back inside the room we used to share,
I brush my hair.
The mirror nods at me. Here is my face.
The bed’s in its old place.