Waiting for This Story to End Before I Begin Another

By Jan Heller Levi b. 1954
All my stories are about being left,
all yours about leaving. So we should have known.
Should have known to leave well enough alone;
we knew, and we didn’t. You said let’s put
our cards on the table, your card
was your body, the table my bed, where we didn’t
get till 4 am, so tired from wanting
what we shouldn’t that when we finally found our heads,
we’d lost our minds. Love,I wanted to call you
so fast. But so slow you could taste each
letter licked into your particular and rose-like ear.
L, love, for let’s wait. O, for oh no, let’s not. V
for the precious v between your deep breasts
(and the virtue of your fingers
in the voluptuous center of me.)
 
Okay, E for enough.
 
Dawn broke, or shattered. Once we’ve made
the promises, it’s hard to add the prefix if. . . .
But not so wrong to try.
That means taking a lot of walks,
which neither of us is good at,
for different reasons, and nights up till 2
arguing whose reasons are better.
Time and numbers count a lot in this. 13
years my marriage. 5 years you my friend.
4th of July weekend when something that begins
in mist, by mistake (whose?), means too much
has to end. I think we need an abacus to get our love
on course, and one of us to oil the shining rods
so we can keep the crazy beads clicking,
clicking. It wasn’t a question
of a perfect fit. Theoretically,
it should be enough to say I left a man
for a woman (90% of the world is content
to leave it at that. Oh, lazy world) and when the woman
lost her nerve, I left
for greater concerns: when words like autonomy
were useful, I used them, I confess. So I get
what I deserve: a studio apartment he paid the rent on;
bookshelves up to the ceiling she drove
the screws for. And a skylight I sleep alone
beneath, and two shiny quarters in my pocket
to call one, then the other, or to call one
 
twice. Once, twice, I threatened to leave him—
remember? Now that I’ve done it, he says
he doesn’t. I’m in a phonebooth at the corner of Bank
and Greenwich; not a booth, exactly,
but two sheets of glass to shiver between.
This is called being street-smart: dialing
a number that you know won’t be answered,
but the message you leave leaves proof that you tried.
And this, my two dearly beloveds, is this called
hedging your bets? I fish out my other
coin, turn it over in my fingers, press
it into the slot. Hold it there. Let it drop.

Jan Heller Levi, “Waiting for This Story to End Before I Begin Another” from Once I Gazed at You in Wonder. Copyright © 1999 by Jan Heller Levi. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: Once I Gazed at You in Wonder (Louisiana State University Press, 1999)

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Poet Jan Heller Levi b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Separation & Divorce, Love, Break-ups & Vexed Love, Desire, Realistic & Complicated, Romantic Love, Relationships, Men & Women

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Biography

Poet Jan Heller Levi was born in New York City and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and is the author of the poetry collections Once I Gazed at You in Wonder (1999), which received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Skyspeak: Poems (2005). Conversational and intimate, Levi’s poems often address familial concerns and aspects of a woman’s life. Alice Fulton . . .

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Poems by Jan Heller Levi

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Separation & Divorce, Love, Break-ups & Vexed Love, Desire, Realistic & Complicated, Romantic Love, Relationships, Men & Women

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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