Rebecca Hazelton



No matter the now of it, in the beginning
                        there was willingness
and there was a long summer
                        turning the black paint on the fire escape
                                    to tar sucking at our shoes
                        in a greedy love, don’t go, don’t go,
            and the roofs turned the rare rain
                                                            to steam
                                                 to air again,
and there was no meaning in any of it, just the ordinary
            prayers and hands,
                                    just songbirds competing
                        with traffic noise,
her, standing in my doorway,
                        explaining how my life
                                                was no longer solely mine,
how sometimes skin and skin and the air through lips
                                    bring us to each other
                        in one form, then another,
and my quarrel wasn’t with her
            but with God
            or whomever.

That summer was a drought, the city was parched,
            the lake low on the shore and the gardens abandoned
                        to what could grow without care or love
except for the secret tendings
                        of illegal sprinklers in the dark hours,
and in that summer the few trees outside
                        our apartment complex were still
                                                and a blight took them out
                                                and then a chainsaw.


When I said my life, I meant my husband
            how she’d wifed him one night
after a party I’d left early.
Despite this new information
history and the greater world
            continued, the first plane
hit and the radio announcers jabbered
                        confusion, a mistake, a freak
accident but then it wasn’t
and we watched the live feed
of one body,
two, darting through the smoke to the ground below.
Later, we would try to cast the memory
            from a mold of acceptable rhetoric, from received sources,
from cooler heads, the moment
                        never replayed
            because the bodies had families
            and the bodies had carried in them something
            other than body
and if we didn’t name it
            we could avoid mistaking it.


In her mouth
                        a mistake        
took wing, her brandy and champagne
                                    channelled down
one arm, crested one breast, and we listened to the rattling
                        call of buildings under threat,
through the colors
of alarm, took our shoes
                        off and passed through
                                    invisible rays
and let strangers press our underwires
                        for hidden sharps and nails
for months
to years until the fear felt
                        familiar and earned.
I divorced. She married.
There were postcards,
then there weren’t, there was talk
                        of arrest and there was talk
of drugs and then there was no talk.

Across the rooftops the curls of vapor.
Across the smoke the silhouettes falling.
                        The birds against the mechanical.
                        The mechanical bird against the flat gray.

So she said it was a mistake, our bodies’
                                    collision, no different
from other accidents, and so I said
                                    it was a mistake, our bodies’
                        collision, and in other years
                        there were other accidents,     
                        and we each put a footnote
                        at the bottom of the history.

The problem with a history is the memory
won’t square, the house leans
                        to one side with the pressure
of ghosts, and all the rats
                                    flood out,
            breaking the drought
                                                with their rolling bodies.
There was no great love
                                    between us. I’ll never know
if the body she was in held the brighter thing
                        I looked for,
                                                but I have my doubts.

One summer, another, ended with dark descending
            and all through the parks the fireflies
synchronized, though one man giving another man
            relief by the empty swingsets hardly noticed,
                                    though a roman candle
spattering in the hands
                        of a drunk and laughing girl running
            lit nothing out of the ordinary
                        and sputtered out, leaving
only the same stars
                        in the same patterns as before
among them the red lights
                                    of travelers sleeping
with only slight fear
            far above, and her below
                                    the earth somewhere
I’ve never visited, her name
                        returned to her at last
from the mouths of others
                        who passed it back and forth,
fraying its edges,
                                    myself among them.

Rebecca Hazelton has been published or is forthcoming in Agni, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review and others. She was the Jay C. and Ruth Hall Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Creative Writing Institute, and also received a fellowship from Vermont Studio Center. She teaches creative writing at Beloit College. Her book, Fair Copy, won The Ohio State Press/The Journal Award in Poetry and is forthcoming in fall. 

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