Poems of loneliness and late nights, liquor and loss.
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How many nights have I lain here like this, feverish with plans, with fears, with the last sentence someone spoke, still trying to finish a conversation already over? How many nights were wasted in not sleeping, how many in sleepI don't know how many hungers there are, how much radiance or salt, how many times the world breaks apart, disintegrates to nothing and starts up again in the course of an ordinary hour. I don't know how God can bear seeing everything at once: the falling bodies, the monuments and burnings, the lovers pacing the floors of how many locked hearts. I want to close my eyes and find a quiet field in fog, a few sheep moving toward a fence. I want to count them, I want them to end. I don't want to wonder how many people are sitting in restaurants about to close down, which of them will wander the sidewalks all night while the pies revolve in the refrigerated dark. How many days are left of my life, how much does it matter if I manage to say one true thing about ithow often have I tried, how often failed and fallen into depression? The field is wet, each grassblade gleaming with its own particularity, even here, so that I can't help asking again, the white sky filling with footprints, bricks, with mutterings over rosaries, with hands that pass over flames before covering the eyes. I'm tired, I want to rest now. I want to kiss the body of my lover, the one mouth, the simple name without a shadow. Let me go. How many prayers are there tonight, how many of us must stayawake and listen?
* * *
There's a bird crying outside, or maybe calling, anyway it goes on and on without stopping, so I begin to think it's my bird, my insistent I, I, I that today is so trapped by some nameless but still relentless longing that I can't get any further than this, one note clicking metronomically in the afternoon silence, measuring out some possible melody I can't begin to learn. I could say it's the bird of my loneliness asking, as usual, for love, for more anyway than I have; I could as easily call it grief, ambition, knot of self that won't untangle, fear of my own heart. All I can do is listen to the way it keeps on, as if it's enough just to launch a voice against stillness, even a voice that says so little, that no one is likely to answer with anything but sorrow, and their own confusion. I, I, I, isn't it the sweetest sound, the beautiful, arrogant ego refusing to disappear? I don't know what I want, only that I'm desperate for it, that I can't stop asking. That when the bird finally quiets I need to say it doesn't, that all afternoon I hear it, and into the evening; that even now, in the darkness, it goes on.
* * *
In every bar there's someone sitting alone and absolutely absorbed by whatever he's seeing in the glass in front of him, a glass that looks ordinary, with something clear or dark inside it, something partially drunk but never completely gone. Everything's there: all the plans that came to nothing, the stupid love affairs, and the terrifying ones, the ones where actual happiness opened like a hole beneath his feet and he fell in, then lay helpless while the dirt rained down a little at a time to bury him. And his friends are there, cracking open six-packs, raising the bottles, the click of their meeting like the sound of a pool cue nicking a ball, the wrong ball, that now edges, black and shining, toward the waiting pocket. But it stops short, and at the bar the lone drinker signals for another. Now the relatives are floating up with their failures, with cancer, with plateloads of guilt and a little laughter, too, and even beautysome afternoon from childhood, a lake, a ball game, a book of stories, a few flurries of snow that thicken and gradually cover the earth until the whole world's gone white and quiet, until there's hardly a world at all, no traffic, no money or butchery or sex, just a blessed peace that seems final but isn't. And finally the glass that contains and spills this stuff continually while the drinker hunches before it, while the bartender gathers up empties, gives back the drinker's own face. Who knows what it looks like; who cares whether or not it was young once, or ever lovely, who gives a shit about some drunk rising to stagger toward the bathroom, some man or woman or even lost angel who recklessly threw it all overheaven, the ether, the celestial worksand said, Fuck it, I want to be human? Who believes in angels, anyway? Who has time for anything but their own pleasures and sorrows, for the few good people they've managed to gather around them against the uncertainty, against afternoons of sitting alone in some bar with a name like the Embers or the Ninth Inning or the Wishing Well? Forget that loser. Just tell me who's buying, who's paying; Christ but I'm thirsty, and I want to tell you something, come close I want to whisper it, to pour the words burning into you, the same words for each one of you, listen, it's simple, I'm saying it now, while I'm still sober, while I'm not about to weep bitterly into my own glass, while you're still heredon't go yet, stay, stay, give me your shoulder to lean against, steady me, don't let me drop, I'm so in love with you I can't stand up.
* * *
You know how hard it is sometimes just to walk on the streets downtown, how everything enters you the way the scientists describe itphotons streaming through bodies, caroming off the air, the impenetrable brick of buildings an illusionsometimes you can feel how porous you are, how permeable, and the man lurching in circles on the sidewalk, cutting the space around him with a tin can and saying Uhh! Uhhhh! Uhh! over and over is part of it, and the one in gold chains leaning against the glass of the luggage store is, and the one who steps toward you from his doorway, meaning to ask something apparently simple, like What's the time, something you know you can no longer answer; he's part of it, the body of the world which is also yours and which keeps insisting you recognize it. And the trouble is, you do, but it's happening here, among the crowds and exhaust smells, and you taste every greasy scrap of paper, the globbed spit you step over, your tongue is as thick with dirt as though you've fallen on your hands and knees to lick the oil-scummed street, as sour as if you've been drinking the piss of those men passing their bottle in the little park with its cement benches and broken fountain. And it's no better when you descend the steps to the Metro and some girl's wailing off-key about her heartyour heart over the awful buzzing of the strings, and you hurry through the turnstile, fumbling out the money that's passed from how many hands into yours, getting rid of all your change except one quarter you're sure she sees lying blind in your pocket as you get into a car and the doors seal themselves behind you. But still it isn't over. Because later, when you're home, looking out your window at the ocean, at the calm of the horizon line, and the apple in your hand glows in that golden light that happens in the afternoon, suffusing you with something you're sure is close to peace, you think of the boy bagging groceries at Safeway, of how his face was flattened in a way that was familiarbootheel of a botched chromosomeand you remember his canceled blue eyes, and his hands, flaking, rash-reddened, that lifted each thing and caressed it before placing it carefully in your sack, and the monotonous song he muttered, paper or plastic, paper or plastic, his mouth slack, a teardrop of drool at the corner; and you know he's a part of it too, raising the fruit to your lips you look out at the immense and meaningless blue and know you're inside it, you realize you're eating him now.
* * *
Suppose we could see evil with such clarity we wouldn't hesitate to stamp it out like stray sparks from a fire. Look at those boys shooting baskets in the park, jostling each other to hook the ball through the iron circle at the end of the asphaltwhat if you knew
a secret about one of them? Shirtless, he stands vibrating at the edge of an imaginary line, the orange globe trembling at the tips of his fingers, sweat drawing the light into his skinwhat if he'd done something unspeakable, something I can't
talk about but know you can imagine, to the one you love most in this world? Your child, maybe, or the person whose body you know so well you can see it simply by closing your eyesWhat if he'd broken that body;
do you think if I handed you a gun you would walk up to that shining boy and use it? You might think first that maybe he couldn't help himself, maybe he was trying as he stood there concentrating on his shot to stop the noise
of some relentless machine grinding away in his brain, the same one you hear in yours sometimes, bearing down until you can't tell what's true anymore, or good. Suppose God began to have that trouble. Suppose the first man
turned out cruel and stupid, a cartoon creature that farted and giggled continuously; suppose the woman ripped saplings from the earth all day and refused to speak or be grateful for anything. What if they decided to torment
the smaller, weaker beasts, and just as God was about to strike them dead and start over they turned toward each other and discovered fucking, and the serpent whispered Look at them and God's head filled with music while the wild sparks leaped
from their bodies, bright as the new stars in the heavens.
* * *
It feels so good to shoot a gun, to stand with your legs apart holding a nine millimeter in both hands aiming at something that can't run. Over and over I rip holes
in the paper target clamped to its hanger, target I move closer with the flick of a switch or so far away its center looks like a small black planet in its white square of space. It feels good to nestle a clip
of bullets against the heel of your hand, to ratchet one into the chamber and cock the hammer back and fire, the recoil surging along your arms as the muzzle kicks up, as you keep control. It's so good you no longer wonder
why some boys lift them from bottom drawers and boxes at the backs of closets, and drive fast into lives they won't finish, lean from their car windows and let go a few rounds into whatever's out there. You can hear what comes back as they speed away:
burst glass, or the high ring of struck steel, or maybe moans. Now you want to take the thing and hurl it into the ocean, to wait until it drops down through the dark and cold and lodges so deep
nothing could retrieve it. But you know it would float back and wash up like a bottle carrying a message from a dead man. You stand there firing until the gun feels light again, and innocent. And then you reload.
Meet the Author
Kim Addonizio is the author of Tell Me, a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award for Poetry. She is co-author with Dorianne Laux of The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. Addonizio's first collection, The Philosopher's Club, received the 1994 Great Lakes New Writers' Award and a Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California. She holds a master's degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University and is the recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Pushcart Prize. She lives in San Francisco.
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