She shrieked and broke
ground in the fertile soil,
his fragile roots withering
the dirt recoiling and the
sun standing still in the sky
as if offered as a portent
when in reality is was just another
of her incursions into the not-so-
hallowed earth of his trusting heart.
Secrets tumble from our lips
and lie bleeding in the snow
like crimson birds, their wings
stretched out in mute agony,
as our eyesight fails and the
shadows whisper betrayal to
the last of the light disappearing
over the horizon, leaving us with
only each other, our mysteries
disgorged, our blindness permanent.
You buried your
regrets in the backyard
and they took root,
blooming every spring.
Rather than fight it,
you water them with
your tears and cut their
blossoms to adorn
your hair and spread
in your bathwater.
I visit you one still,
gray afternoon and find
you standing amidst
the overgrowth, the yard
practically taken over with
blood-dark petals, and you
say, “I’ll never sell this
damn house now, will I?”
The best place for us is the dark
even though your childhood was soaked
in shadows and mine was a grayscale
dress rehearsal for future calamity.
None of that matters when you look at me
and my reflection in your eyes isn’t ugly.
Hope stirs in me as the last of the light fades,
and our hands find each other, holding tight.
This happened back when I taught middle-school. The student in questions was a nice girl who was completely serious. There was no reason for her to know who Flannery was (unlike in the poem, I explained to the student who she was and assured her that she was not my wife). The John Lennon question threw me a bit more because why on Earth would I have a poster of myself in my classroom? Or a poster of myself anywhere?
My Student Asks If Flannery O’Connor Is My Wife
I have three postcards of her—two photographs,
one painting—and my student ambles over to my desk
and asks in all sincerity, “It that your wife?”
I study Flannery for a bit, in the first postcard, where
she stares into the camera with a half-smile, her blue
eyes intelligent and humorous behind her glasses,
the curl of her hair just visible on the side of her head.
The image is just a touch out of focus, lending Flannery
a ghostly air, as if she just floated in some time after
her death and someone snapped one last photo.
I glance at the three framed pictures of my desk
that show me, my wife, and my two children—color
pictures, obviously recently taken, our faces full of life,
in full focus, a split-second of captured happiness.
“Yes, Flannery is my wife,” I say. “She’s a bit older,
but we’re quite happy. She stays in Andalusia most
of the year, and I see her when I can. We read each
other stories and drink tea and watch the peacocks.”
My student nods, completely satisfied, and turns
to the poster of John Lennon on the wall. “And that’s you?”
I get up to the old thus-and-so game
every now and then, and my old lady
starts carving out a new home in the
black hills of South Dakota, which is
my cue to high-tail it back to Alabama
with a dimebag on my knee to find a
replacement for our dear old dog Fancy
who took a bullet meant for me last year.
“Bring me back something nice!” my old
lady shouts at me as I drive away from my
broken home full of broken dreams and
promise myself, this time, I won’t fuck up.
Two poems in one day? Who do I think I am?!?!
I smoked a whole bowl
of ground-up teeth and it
made me think of licorice
nights when you and I
co-mingled with deadly
dares and stared point
blank into eclipsing suns
while the band played a lazy
version of “Sympathy for
the Devil,” the only Stones
song you ever liked, and I
held your shaking hands,
saying, “One day, we’ll find
the time to love each other.”
“What’re you obsessed with?” she asked
before her her mouth melted away and
time, having lost all its stitches, unraveled.
I thought of a dozen lies, some of which
made me quite proud, but I opted to tell
the truth, though her ears had long since gone.
But when did that occur? There was no way
to tell anymore, and that was for the best,
given the terrible weight of the world and
the failed dreams of everyone, not the least her.
Was it prophecy that made you cry?
Was it exiled tongues and luxurious bloodbaths?
The hills ringing with the screams of sons
stolen in the night and you, like Grendel’s mother,
running toward that awful sound, recalling
your newborn’s cry, that silver fulcrum on which
your heart first broke? No…the truth is harder
than that, offering the kind of hard clarity
that follows death or after a lover, seeking newness,
sheds you like an old coat, disappears into another life.
What then, Anna? What is left for us, poets without
a homeland, men and women saved from the fire
only to be drowned in the icy river? What is beautiful
now that voices are silenced again and hatred springs
from the head of a malignant Zeus? Would you save us
or would you smile and tell us to fight our own battles?
I long to see you in the doorway of The Stray Dog,
eye dark with promise, your lips like hot coals, and I’m
stuck in this time, breathing air that could spell my doom.
Save me a seat in that fabled café. I will find my way to you.
I have mixed greens for memory
and an old window for a mouth.
It’s expected for some people of
the older generation, like myself,
when the laws of attraction were
more rigid and a man could count
on times spent alone–a few months–
but not this hellish stretch of years,
time like an old rubber band that
once held newspapers together,
and all the headlines screamed:
MAN SPENDS FINAL DAYS ALONE.
It would be funny if it wasn’t true, I tell
my reflection, which wants nothing to
do with me and decides to vanish,
looking for another mirror to haunt,
hoping beyond home it wont be another
selfish, long-in-the-tooth bastard like me.