It snakes behind me, this invisible chain gang—
the aliases, your many faces peopling
that vast hotel, the past. What did we learn?
Every twenty minutes the elevated train,
the world shuddering beyond
the pane. It was never warm enough in winter.
The walls peeled, the color of corsages
ruined in the air. Sweeping the floor,
my black wig on the chair. I never meant
to leave you in that hotel where the voices
of patrons long gone seemed to echo in the halls,
a scent of spoiled orchids. But this was never
an elegant hotel. The iron fretwork of the El
held each room in a deep corrosive bloom.
This was the bankrupt’s last chance, the place
the gambler waits to learn his black mare’s
leg snapped as she hurtled towards the finish line.
* * *
How did we live? Your face over my shoulder
was the shade of mahogany in the speckled
mirror bolted to the wall. It was never warm.
You arrived through a forest of needles,
the white mist of morphine, names for sleep
that never came. My black wig unfurled
across the battered chair. Your arms circled me
when I stood by the window. Downstairs
the clerk who read our palms broke the seal
on another deck of cards. She said you’re my fate,
my sweet annihilating angel, every naked hotel room
I’ve ever checked out of. There’s nothing
left of that, but even now when night pulls up
like a limousine, sea-blue, and I’m climbing the stairs,
keys in hand, I’ll reach the landing and
you’re there—the one lesson I never get right.
Trains hurtled by, extinguished somewhere
past the bend of midnight. The shuddering world.
Your arms around my waist. I never meant to leave.
* * *
Of all that, there's nothing left but a grid
of shadows the El tracks throw over the street,
the empty lot. Gone, the blistered sills,
voices that rilled across each wall. Gone,
the naked bulb swinging from the ceiling,
that chicanery of light that made your face
a brief eclipse over mine. How did we live?
The mare broke down. I was your fate, that
yellow train, the plot of sleet, through dust
crusted on the pane. It wasn't warm enough.
What did we learn? All I have left of you
is this burnt place on my arm. So, I won't
forget you even when I'm nothing but
small change in the desk clerk's palm, nothing
but the pawn ticket crumpled in your pocket,
the one you'll never redeem. Whatever I meant
to say loses itself in the bend of winter
towards extinction, this passion of shadows falling
like black orchids through the air. I never meant
to leave you there by the pane, that
terminal hotel, the world shuddering with trains.