Written a Few Miles Above a Hole in the Earth We Like to Pretend Isn’t There
I look away too. Or accidentally think about a moon,
since when nothing is happening, a moon is happening.
I feel the sea forgetting me again,
my hands first, then the color of my eyes,
though they’re the color of the sea.
I draw pictures of jungles with no trees in them
so at least the paper feels more ashamed of itself than I do.
A name for that kind of hypocrisy happens, I’m sure,
in the books I tell people I’ve read.
I don’t have time to read them.
I sometimes can’t remember names. Of events, of people, places.
I just call them Justin, from the Latin Justus, meaning righteous.
My friend I’d walk to school with, for example,
who lived next door until sixth grade,
whose parents I never saw speak to each other.
We stuffed pillows under our shirts
and “Sumo-wrestled” in his yard while his little sister
made a real family with her Barbies on the porch.
I heard he jumped into a river one January night, his 23rd birthday,
and was found the next morning,
a quiet smile frozen to his face.
In middle school, my parents separated.
Dad moved to Tennessee and met a diner waitress
who smoked Salem Lights at breakfast with her coffee
while she stared silently at me eating my Corn Flakes.
Her eyes, the color of a dead tree, said how in-the-way she found me
until she looked away.
I looked away too.
Mom and I vacationed near the sea that summer. Just us.
We walked together every night in the surf
and felt it forgetting us more every time a wave broke near our ankles.
But we laughed like the sea.
It felt like we hadn’t laughed before.
I grew up with that laughter aching to crash again
sky-shaped from the edge of some void inside me that’s never had a name.
My wife feels that void sometimes when I look away suddenly.
She fears the Earth grows more sick by the minute,
forgetting each of us, our names, the lives we’ve had in it.
She can’t sleep. I rub her back. I lie. Tell her I’m not afraid.
I tell her, Don’t worry, Justin,
we will be fine as long as we take care of us. Just us.
And usually she falls asleep, lies warm against me like a sea,
so quiet I can close my eyes
and stare back into the dark that never fails to remember me.