The traveler had gone this way before
and the route was familiar in its bends
even though the roadside inns he had known
were shuttered closed and eyeless.
At a spring made from snowmelt,
he doffed his hat to cup the cold water,
dousing his sunburnt face
when he saw the town’s stone marker.
He brushed his thumb against it fondly
and in his mind’s eye he cut the forest for grass
returning it to cow pasture, full of forget-me-nots.
A shy girl he had asked to dance on May Day,
decades ago, had loved them,
and pressed them between old books
to preserve them through the seasons.
He rose from aching knees,
knowing he couldn’t stay any longer
or he’d forget where he was going.
She could no longer remember her mother’s laugh
but her body recalled it somehow
warmth spilling into the deepest part of her
stirring embers to re-light her from within
For years I sent you Christmas cards and never received a reply.
Once, my well wishes included an apology because we had argued.
(Neither the card nor the apology was acknowledged.)
This year, I lost someone and decided I would try one last time.
I thought that at least a goodbye should be full of good intentions and sweet.
This was the year, you decided to thank me for my card.
I cried, knowing I would never send you another one.
a lock rusted shut
and a heart still within it
you who brought her to the doctor
and signed for her packages
so that her parents wouldn’t berate her
for expensive spending habits
once told me, she asked if you were in love with her
and you said no
but from then on,
it was push and pull
an isolation from other friends
she had seen the color of your heart
found the pen to scribble over it
like a child vandalizing her belongings
THIS IS MINE
and still you persisted
even as you told me
where we would eat
what we would watch
what we would do
until one day I said no
and you fell silent
love or friendship
we are human beings
and not things to be used or tossed
or pulverized to fill
the gaps of other people’s wounds
I, who have known you,
now only meet a stranger
who pulls layers over the child
trying her feet in shoes overlarge.
A bitter essence has been mixed in,
stirred and absorbed into her flesh.
Her eyes and touch hold
a sliver of ice, a dagger
poorly concealed — for me.
the lack of your hurt
is another strange ache
that transmutes past pain
into a fantastical pleasure
my heart rends itself in two;
one trying to convince the other
that loving in absence
is loving a mirage