SEPARATION (AND) WHAT THE LIVING DO

TWO POEMS BY MARIE HOWE

 

SEPARATION

Driving out of town, I see him crossing
the Brooks Pharmacy parking lot, and remember

how he would drop to his knees in the kitchen
and press his face to my dress, his cheek flat against

my belly as if he were listening for something.
Somebody might be waiting for coffee in the living room,

someone might be setting the dining room table, he’d
place his face under my dress and press his cheek

against my belly and kneel there, without saying anything.
How is it possible that I am allowed to see him

like this—walking quickly by the glass windows?

—what he wears in the world without me,
his hands swinging by his side, his cock quiet

in his jeans, his shirt covering
his shoulders, his own tongue in his mouth.

 

//

 

WHAT THE LIVING DO

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

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