Ilsa Seeks Rick

Words from the Woman in the Red Dress

It’s hard to say, though, so much of me these days feels cold. Literally, figuratively, ineffably, Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera!

I had to throw my red lipstick away.
It was a hard moment,
saturated with symbol though lacking in substance
Diseased and relentlessly contagious.
Immune-compromised though not positive.
Excessively gendered breaking of hearts.
Paint the town cliché.
The great purge of feminine wiles,
A revelation of shame.

It was a hard moment in a series of hard days
Since, I have not felt the same.
There is so little within my bones of poem,
there is his scent still on my skin and there is the familiar sense of longing which I bring to meet the morning.

A shiver of autumn, of broken radiators and a cheap yet creeping towards overpriced apartment in Brooklyn. I fill the rooms with the passive aggressions of my imagined anxieties. I avoid the kitchen the living room I avoid the necessary conversation required to maintain a state of living.
I am sleeping,
always and never quite.
I snore, he has told me.
My anxieties climb up a wall of the evening, in search of the sun and inspiration, the something over the wall. The air thick with my delusion, turns the corners black, they decay and disintegrate with my footing, my hold on things.

At the end of the glass,
My questions rattle amongst the ice cubes
the answers dilute with the melting

Second Star to the Right, Then Straight on ’til Mourning

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words
-And never stops – at all -

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

-Emily Dickinson,
whom my Grandfather referred to as,
“The Woman.”

 


 
You died two weeks before Mother’s Day. ​​​
Your sense of humor was always a bit twisted that way.

I was 19.
Which is just over the age when people say
That’s too young.

There are less heroics at 19.
Fewer excuses.
So I worked on the holiday.
The owner of the bakery told me,
“You’ll have the dreams, you know.”

For so long I did not dream of you.
I kept waiting to.

You used to do this thing, you know
where you would say,
“5 more minutes.”
Which could mean hours.
And I knew,
“Just 20 minutes more!”
Meant you would take forever.
Perhaps,
You are only gone for 20 minutes.

For so long I forgot
what it meant to be angry with you.
I just knew that I had.
I can see the dishes shattered in the kitchen,
I just can’t remember the sound.

But I can recall exactly how you told me.
We parked your car in the driveway
With the engine turned off
But the radio on.
We were listening to that Casablanca song
As Time Goes By
You sighed at the steering wheel,
Not at me.

Then said,
“This would make a great first dance at a wedding someday.
And you’ll all say,
God, I wish mom was here.”

I miss the way you took your coffee-
Constantly
How you would misplace each cup somewhere.
On a bookshelf,
Or halfway up the stairs.
I’d open the microwave to find the mug abandoned.
Cold.
Where at some point you planned to reheat it
Told it you’d return in 5 minutes.

Did you know that our birds still spoke like you?
They sang good morning in your coo.
Eventually they stopped, too.
Then they all flew away.
Perhaps, they are with you.

Someone sent me a bottle of your perfume.
Shalimar.
It spilled open in a box of all your scarves.
I could still map out the constellations where your freckles were,
I could guide my way home with them
Second star to the right,
And straight on till mourning
I could still give direction ’round
the dirt-roads of your scars.
Even the last ones
Where they took the fatty tissue,
the lymph nodes,
All the soft parts of you.

By then It was hard to notice, anyway.
In the end you’d stopped eating and
All the soft parts of you had flown away .

Do you remember when the birds had babies?
I mean, of course you do.
Or, of course, you don’t.
But at first,
They were sort of ugly-cute
All screeching and hunger and hard edges.
Until they grew their first feathers
Those little bits of gray fuzz.

The cancer turned you into this
Small baby bird.
The chemo wreaked havoc on your skin,
On your nerves.
So dad went out one day
He bought you these insanely expensive sheets
Made of Egyptian Cotton,
In a bright shade of burnt orange.
We wrapped you in the color of prayer,
Of flame.
Some sleepy phoenix reborn
In a bed of ash and bone
The glow of questions I never asked
And a frozen look of pain.

The embers settled all along outline of your frame.
The first bits of gray hair growing in.

They sent someone in
To take your body away,
We gathered in your garden.
Where they had asked us to stay.
As it can be difficult for some to see.
I assumed they took you out of those sheets.
That they put you in a bag.

Since they scattered your feathers all along their path.

Dear Boy, Who Never Met My Grandfather.

The writing today has been not. Along with the finishing of chores and suppression of anxieties, along with the necessary hours of sleep and their prerequisite ignorance of moonlight-all of them have been decidedly not. The of-courses and always were still as such, nothing changes. The lunatic ways of this poet, of the impending doom of Mondays and plane tickets and Oh dear lord my boyfriend is coming and Oh dear lord it has been so long since I’ve been naked with anyone. Fairly certain my bathroom scale is broken. The barista at the coffee shop keeps insisting they are not closed until 7, while turning off every possible light around me.

I bought new old shoes today and a new old coat from the thrift store that is sort of across the street from my job. I needed the coat, yet I decided to just continue to wear his sweatshirt. Which just fits me. Not in an adorable this is clearly my boyfriend’s way, more of an I am fairly certain my bathroom scale is broken kind of way.

The barista continued his polite insistence that I am fine to stay, and not write. To not drink the sip of coffee in an almost empty cup. He sprays each table with sanitizer and wipes it clean. He runs the rag right across my face, my being, all the while whistling. I wash away the taste of ammonia and dish rag with my last ten percent of coffee, cold.

I left the coffee shop and went to a bar, avoiding the perils of my apartment and the walls he painted white for me. I have felt as little today as I have consumed, hunger being the soil from which affection blooms. The rhizomatic sighs of young, fertile Americans. Fingers intertwined.
Fairly certain my emotional scale is broken.

I have starved my loss into existence, turned numb toward all things save for the wind. The advanced ache of my young bones and their relentless complaining. I love my knees in all their wobbled glory, they get me home and they keep me standing at work and they make poetry seem worthwhile and they help me to wobble away from my anxieties, they avoid the walls of the apartment.

You see, the walls were so ugly and I whined and whined on phone calls to a boyfriend who was not here. Who was perfect in his absence, ever haloed and flawless. He painted them white during his last visit, and we abandoned the project when they were all merely primed white. Bohemian. Post-apocalyptic chic. Or something. Regardless, romantic.

They are waiting. The walls. Not just waiting for me, waiting for me to admit it. The pain of without him. For my emotions, at last unbridled, to declare something other than the thickness of the air around my skin. The winter of New York and never seeing Manhattan, of New York every day the same, of the cityscape sunrise outline orange glow off the empire state building and the smiles I no longer bring to meet the morning.

I want to not write it, or even to think it, to acknowledge the cold shoulder of my inner dialogue. I am the husband to my psyche, I will never wash the dishes or put the trash away. I stopped loving me a long time ago.

I can only hope that all this lack is a coping mechanism, not a falling out of, not a boredom. I never want to be wrong about him. I dare not admit it yet, for fear of his wandering eyes and my inability to lie. These things are so fragile, and he is so very much one of those fragile things. He is my fragile thing and I’ve grown tired of the chore of his mending. I haven’t at all, actually, but I have learned in the past that the day will come. For now, there is only the numb and the not writing.

I should clarify, I don’t love anything these days. Nothing tastes the same, save for the whiskey, the ice cubes. The cold weather and ammonia and the stutter of my inhale.

I keep my eyes down. I radiate taken, or at least not up for anything fun. My cleavage has been bound into submission, starved from the relentless consumption of my lungs. I do not want to love anyone but him. I am just overwhelmed with the anxiety that I don’t. I alternate, I have brief moments during each day where I feel something, and in those moments I miss him. Or his arms, the warmth of skin on mine. It hurts. The scent of autumn and alone, of decay and anxiety. The withering of things, the reduction of beauty to its sugars.
Nothing tastes the same, save for the whiskey.

Please, just let me be right to love this one, let me love him, let us have something easy and warm and eternal and lacking in struggle.

Dear New York, I will always love you and have you. Did I abandon you? I am sorry. You deserve more and I can’t say why I have been so reluctant to put up a fight. You are my girl over the body of water, my green light rich with envy and metaphor.

This is a long love letter to no one. Rather, this is a courtroom record of a heart not breaking. Though just faulty enough to hurt someone. To demand a recall, to question the meaning of this all and the cost of a settlement, of a marriage and a divorce and an inevitable guilt trip by my dead grandfather. I am supposed to be making a list of his things that I want. I want him back.

I am supposed to have found a place for his ashes but nothing feels right, so instead I talk to them. I apologize, I try to live up to their standards and I wonder if they are really the remains of the man who could not die. I curl round the box in my best attempt at the traditional fetal position, which was not mine. He has so much unfinished business and I had so many thing to, well, never say. Thing to say that I never would have, We could have lived for centuries and I’d still shame myself into silence at just the thought of his blue eyes, the anger. The strength and despair and he really had no idea how much I loved him. I know still he would be furious at the things I say about him, sometimes. When I speak of his cold ways, of his shame. I wish I had kept the secret of his illness, how it stole his mind away. I wish I had kept him as mine. I wish I had not been so afraid to love him.

I always called him “Pa.” My mother did not tell me until I was older that he wished to be called “Grandpa.” He was, by far the most interesting human I will ever encounter. His mind moved in ways I will never understand. I loved him in ways he never understood.

To think of breaking my grandfather down to a list of what I want has been a task that has consumed my thoughts, and questioned all my limited 25 year old understanding of what is right.

Were I to send an honest list I would ask for only one thing, I would like my grandfather back. Other than that, I would like my brother to call me. I would like my grandfather’s clock to have continued its infuriating chiming, every 15 minutes. I’d have loved to have spent enough time with him to stop noticing the time. Second star to the right, then straight on ‘til morning.

I would like to give him back his bowl from the prison camp and his filthy sarong of parachute. I would like please to take possession of the broken pieces of his heart and I would like to glue them back. Rather, to hold them together with my own hands, clasped, until the effort allowed his blood to move again. I would like to remain there. I would like to have one more Sunday with him reading poems from the New Yorker and listening to his story of T.S. Eliot in the library. Which is the best of his stories, and above all it is my story. That he told me.
You see, he knew exactly what Eliot was pointing at.

What to Expect When You’re Expiring

1.
On the telephone.
On so many phone calls.
In particular, the first one.
When her voice registers like a dial tone.
Call your home phone number to hear her voice again.
Sob for the answering machine.

2.
Do not cry over food,
over drink.
Cry into the mirror
Watch your silhouette shrink.
The part you have lost,
let it cease to remain metaphor.
Starve it into existence.
Remember,
Your public display of unrequited affection.
Your moth eyes glowing toward a dying flame.
Your prayer of self starvation.
None of it will change a thing.

3.
So go ahead,
Take your mind off things.
Go grocery shopping.
Focus on the cans of chickpeas in aisle
I mean, really focus.
Breathe in deep.
Give up immediately
You never liked oxygen much, anyway.
Collapse, slowly.
Let your shoulders fall first.
Smack your palms against the price tags
Clasp your fingers to the shelf.
Feel your knees give out.
Focus.
Count.
How many cans of black beans are still left?
Desperate, Dig your nails into the red sticker of a discount
Claw at the adhesive
As you descend, as it tears.
Stare up at the rows of cans,
Decide you sort of like it here.

4.
In the car,
Preferably when on a long drive to somewhere Nowhere
Anywhere that requires empty highways and moonlight.
Oh, the glory of it
Oh, the wind, the sky
Drive away from the sunset.
Don’t look back.
Drive in to a thunderstorm, the rattle of raindrops
Heavy on the rooftop,
Relentless
Terrifying yet seemingly appropriate.
Drive under an overpass and
Just for a moment.
It stops.

Realize, that’s what her embrace is. Was.

5.
In New York City,
stand in awe of its beauty.
Of all its spilled coffee.
Of the missed connection
on the subway.
Cry into the boxes and bags you took on your journey
Gasp at the gorgeous of it, even the worst of it.

Outside your grandfather’s apartment, in the rain.
It has soaked through your coat.
Your shirt.
Call your sister Emily and tell her.
I am standing in my first real new york city thunderstorm.
I can see her.
I can see mom.

6..
Leaning over your kitchen sink.
Something about the washing away of things
Brings it out in people-the sobbing
The pruned fingers of reality.
It brings it out in you, too.
Not that you have energy to wash a damn thing.
Namely, your hair.
So, when the neighbors offer to help.
Decline,
<em>that is so very sweet of them to offer. </em>
Wash away the bowls of food she wont eat anymore.

7.
On the first of the hard days.
The nurse from hospice arrives. She is an angel.
Her laughter the sound of bells.

She will give you little pamphlets
Systematically designed to explain
The stages,
The symptoms.
The best ways to manage pain.
The exponential rate of decay
<em>What to expect when you’re expiring.</em>

The well of sorrow within your bones spills
The angel helps you clean it off the tile.
She shows you the proper way to slice a mango.
It will be the last thing your mother eats.
The pamphlets did not warn you.

8.
Grief is not a cycle.
It is a rolling ball,
Followed by a running child.

You have made it toThe final days. Her skin is blotchy, her breathing is raspy.
On and off, flickering.
Your handbook tells you this is the end of things.
The ringing of telephones.
Loved ones crowd Into her bedroom, whispering.
Any moment now she’ll be gone.
Minutes stretch like days when counted out in drops of morphine.
They wash a setting sun across the evening.

You fall asleep, miraculously.
She waits until the morning.
Your brother wakes you.
You find your friend Maddy collapsed in the hallway,
Her face in her hands.
Her palms spit steam.

You know she’s gone.

In a spare moment when she is alone
Whisper, Check if any of her is still hiding in thereCut off a lock of her hair.
Hold her and tell her to just let go.

Now it’s your turn to.

After The Accident. (For Bobby)

(After the car accident, having been hit head-on by a drunk driver when I was 18)

….

To move was to gasp
To shake from the lungs
a series of sobs
A body designed to absorb impact.
Only when it can’t foresee it
 I could not.
I could not
move.
To move was to admit.

The floor of the bathtub
All was white light and the flaws of tear ducts.
He was. Trying.
To bathe me. To wash away.
The boy, without any inherent
Skills one could call mothering
Never taught, but trying.

He held the shower head too low,
Rinsed soap into my eyes.
The tub slowly filled with water turned grey,
The cooled iron of a drunk’s flame.

Though, despite the sting of any sudden motion
the stab of ache and oxygen-
the attempt, the inhale.
The water on my back felt wonderful.

Scabbed, swollen beyond the strength of my being.
More naked than I’d ever been
and
He,
He was just there, trying.
There was no thought of casually leaning back
Allowing my stomach to lay flat,
my thighs pushed together
My legs crossed In order to shrink my silhouette.
There was none of that,
Just pain
And water
And him.
I curled into a ball with my skin
Stomach folding over itself,
my entire body filled, swelling. Shameless.
The seat belt left
A strip of bruises across my chest
Knees steady turned shades of purple, green, and black.
But the water felt wonderful on my back.

His hand knocked bottle of the shelf
It flew past my face and smacked against the water,
My river of a grey after
I only saw the car
I only withdrew from my body,
Herd the conversation of my muscles veer wildly toward argument,
Toward a violent dispute with my instinct.
as I pulled away.
Then I was in the white light
Of the bathtub, again.
Shaking and sobbing,
The water still running.
His clothing soaked from climbing in.

Found this little gem hiding away.

I feel too tired to love you today,
To meet your mother,
To tell you to tell her that I say, hi
or some other such politeness, Oh is
that your mother on the phone,
Please tell her I say, hi
And also please don’t hate me.

I’ve been here, technically.

I have just been temporarily broken-hearted, working at a back-breaking pace, and trying to fix the broken machine of my body. Replacement parts hard to come by these days. The repairman scoffed,

They haven’t made this piece since 1958. Where did you even find this thing?

I have been gone, I’ve been away in Belgium and love.
He went back to Amsterdam two weeks ago, and my body tried to go with him. It’s been a rare occasion fit for weeping and insomnia. Too much coffee and a new round of prescription medication.
Loving him was the easy decision. I really had no say in the matter.
Eventual sleep and some healing.
Second star to the right and straight on ‘til mourning.

We made it through those weeks 
With promises of summer and its brief freedoms
Its burns.
The forecast takes a sudden turn.

August was strangely cold in New York this year
Based on the headlines, it would appear
That Demeter already knows
That she has begun to let the plants go.

He is obviously not gone forever, or even for long. November or December will come. The year will pass and then he will be home. Wherever home may be, but decidedly it will be with me.

Trying to convince my being of these things has been impossible. My affection is a stubborn one, it seems. She has a flair for melodramatic wailing. Denial is best mixed with mild panic and caffeine. The connotation and denotation of heartbeat. Mine is fumbling in circles around Manhattan side streets.

Sleep has been difficult.
My sister will tell me I need to take my lorazepam.
My boss will ask if I am eating.
The poets will not ask where I’ve been but I will wish they had.

Lauren Bacall is gone now
and nothing seems the same.

I haven’t been writing much all summer, but the words have been cold brewing.
If there is one thing I am good at, it is spilling coffee.

(I am also well-suited to assist in a medical emergency.
Should that fail, I write a decent eulogy)

I have stained all my shirts with sentence fragments.
False starts of love letters.
They leave rings on all the  wooden furniture.
Like autopsied trees.
I have loved you for so long, they read.

I stood so long today that my left knee, left. 
It declared a labor strike and began picketing outside the doors of my legs. 
The doors were red at some point, they have been worn down in time.
 The warm orange glow of an exit sign.
The walk home this evening was decidedly difficult,
embarrassing, and painful.
The whole time I was wobbling like a fool I was thinking
If only,
I could only being wobbling foolishly home, to you.
Lend me your bones for an evening.

“The coming home was always to you”
My grandfather wrote that.
I love like he did, I make the same grand mistakes. Sometimes, it makes me mean. 

I have loved the wrong ones. 
Or loved the right ones,
did not make them home.
Or the one. So to say.
I, like my grandfather, take no joy in admitting the wrong.
Prayer is sometimes an apology one tells oneself.
But I was thinking, whilst wobbling,
that I would gladly take all the wrong
If I could please this time be right.

I have been thinking about knees quite a bit lately.
My knees were baptized with the rest of my body, but they cannot bend in prayer.
About what a privilege it is to walk. About my Aunt.
That is a story of heartbreak for another time.

I am writing this to say I am still alive.
I am just saying hello to the world. Myself included.

 

The person you are trying to reach is emotionally unavailable. Please leave a message after the tone,

If you are satisfied with your message
You may hang up, or
Press 1
for more options.
………..
To listen to your message.
Press 1
……

To re-record your message,

Press 2
…..
To listen to your progressively angrier series of messages
Press 1
……..

To delete your message and pretend this never happened.
Press 4
…..
Or was it 5?
To question the impact of your mistake:
Press 5

To hear a lecture
on your numerous shortcomings
as written by you ex-girlfriends
and recited by your father
Press 5
……..
For a sleeping pill
Press 9
…….
For another,
Press 7
…..
She’s moved on. It’s late.
This may not even be her number.
You fool.
For a drop of morphine.
Press 8
….
To stare at the ceiling
Until the sun rises.
Press
6
…….

This message will repeat.</p

This is my best impression of Molly Bloom. Which is to say I am a complete Mess.

I wrote this letter with the intention
that it be read aloud.
Forgive the limits of my voice.
Of my lungs,
Of this gluttonous muscle that
Struggles as ever
To wrap its way around a phrase. Please.
If you cannot understand my words
then take the sound
(The syntax, the perspective)
and know
That when asked any question deemed important
My bones will always answer with your name.

I have taken you sublingually.
You dissolved your way to my bloodstream.
Then remained.

I spend evenings staring at my bedroom ceiling,
Arguing with my inner narrator
That if he insists on keeping me
From sleep again
I’d rather the conversation be about you.
You know, switch it up from my usual
statistically-induced-panic-attack.

This is my best impression of Molly Bloom
Which is to say I am a complete mess.

(Also, that I knew that line would make you laugh. Yes.)

The first time we were together
you seemed so nervous
I was afraid you might shatter
Might shake your veins
Hiss steam from your joints like a crazed radiator
Dissolve into dust,
Into some
powder-form moonlight.

Might lean in to kiss me
Then spontaneously combust.
Not in a double-entendre sense,
In a literal sense.
Which would have been a terrible thing to have to explain to the firemen standing in my apartment.
Let alone my roommates.

The are lot of things I should be doing besides writing this for you.
A lot of things more important than loving you and
There are hundreds of things
I am inifinitely better at than writing in general
like,
Spilling my coffee
or
Bumping into table corners
or
somehow eating an entire hamburger without smudging my lipstick.

But,

Loving you
is something that I am
Like, sort-of-okay at.

I mean, not great,
but definitely still better
than I am at writing poems or subtlety.

Though not nearly as good
as I am at not drinking coffee,
and
may I just say
that if anyone is going to mess up my lipstick these days
I would really like it to be you.

Wherever it is that you and I end up before we wind up dead
I hope that we find time again to have a 20 minute transfer in
the Antwerp Railway Station.
And,
did you know?
That your watchband is always too loose.
I have noticed
That if I ask the time of you
You would rather jerk your elbow violently until the face jumps around your wrist to be read
than ever let go of my hand.

It seems important.

At this moment,
To record these things.
Our story.
I am not entirely sure why
and I certainly have not come close
to doing it justice.
The best I can come up with is,

Do you remember the day?
In New York City.
In the rain.
We were standing underneath the overpass of the subway.
The drops kept settling on your glasses.
You just kept looking past them
You know, at me.

Exsanguinated in the Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station.

Like everyone’s been saying we are.

These days
These muscles of metaphor
Beat faster.
They loiter outside the skin’s side door
Look for trouble like they don’t know better.

The mosquito’s song-
A reprimand, shooed away,
You can’t just hang around here adoring me.

Slow burn of the wait
Soaked in sun
and a shop-awning’s-worth of shade
Scowl teeth wrapped in sugar cane
Say,
Go ahead, officer,
Tell me I can’t stay.

Limb kissing the lighting
Late night longing of conversation
Relentless pursuit of the clock’s alarm
Twenty minute layover in the Antwerp train station.
He warned,
       “You will love this”

Transfer between a pipe dream and a love song.

The boy who breathes jazz percussion
but don’t know a thing of swing.

Knees bruised by cobblestones,
And all his bending
Toward the begged question
Big love eyes always waitin’ on.

Mornings when the light sneaks in
I fixate on the long stretch of his windows.
His skin a fan of sandalwood.
The open. The perfume. The flutter.
The days with him when I wonder.

My night owl ways have gone,
My insomnia cure is pretending
To be where you are

(If it’s July twenty-fourteen in New York,
What time is is in Casablanca?)

And the moon-
Don’t get me started on her.

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