Drawings: For John Who Said to Write about True Love

“The writer. It’s a cul-de-sac,” you wrote that
winter of our nation’s discontent. That first time
I found you, blue marble lying still in the trench, you, staked
in waiting for something, anything but the cell of your small
apartment with the fixtures never scrubbed, the seven great
named cats you gassed in the move. I couldn’t keep them.
You explained so I understood. And what cat never loved
your shell-like ways, the claw of your steady fingers, firme
from the rasping of banjos and steady as it goes
from the nose to the hair to the shaking tip. My favorite
tale was of the owl and the pussycat in love in a china cup
cast at sea, or in a flute more brittle, more lifelike
and riddled with flair, the exquisite polish of its gaudy
glaze now puzzled with heat cracks, now foamed
opalescent as the single espresso dish you bought from
Goodwill. What ever becomes of the heart our common
child fashioned, red silk and golden satin, the gay glitter
fallen from moves, our names with Love written in black
felt pen? Who gets what? Who knows what becomes of the
rose you carried home from Spanish Harlem that morning
I sat waiting for the surgeon’s suction. What ever becomes
of waiting and wanting, when the princess isn’t ready and
the queen has missed the boat, again? Do you still write
those old remarks etched on a page of Kandinsky’s ace
letting go? Like: Lorna meets Oliver North and she
kicks his butt. The dates are immaterial to me as
salvation or a freer light bending through stallions
in an air gone heavy with underground tunnels. Do you
read me? Is there some library where you’ll find me, smashed
on the page of some paper? Let it go is my morning mantra
gone blind with the saved backing of a clock, now dark
as an empty womb when I wake, now listening for your tick
or the sound of white walls on a sticky street. Engines out
the window remind me of breathing apparatus at the breaking
of new worlds, the crash and perpetual maligning of the sand
bar where sea lions sawed up logs for a winter cabin. I dream
wood smoke in the morning. I dream the rank and file of used
up chimneys, what that night must have smelled like, her mussed
and toweled positioning, my ambulance of heart through stopped
traffic where you picked the right corner to tell me: They think
someone murdered her. You were there, all right, you were
a statue carved from the stone of your birth. You were patient
as a sparrow under leaf and as calm as the bay those light
evenings when I envisioned you with the fishwife you loved.
And yes, I could have done it then, kissed it off, when the scalpel
of single star brightened and my world blazed, a dying bulb
for the finger of a socket, like our sunsets on the Cape, fallen
fish blood in snow, the hearts and diamonds we found and left
alone on a New England grave. Why was the summer so long
then? Even now a golden season stumps me and I stamp
ants on the brilliant iced drifts. I walk a steady mile
to that place where you left it, that solid gold band
thrown away to a riptide in a gesture the theatrical
love—so well. What was my role? Or did I leave it
undelivered when they handed me the gun of my triggered
smiles and taught me to cock it? Did I play it to the hilt
and bleeding, did I plunge in your lap and wake to find you
lonely in a ribbon of breathing tissue? Does this impudent
muscle die? Does love expire? Do eternal nestings mean much
more than a quill gone out or the spit? I spy the bank
of frothed fog fuming with airbrushed pussies on a pink
horizon. I scored my shoes with walking. My skill is losing.
It’s what we do best, us ducks, us lessons on what not
to do.
                     Thanks for the crack,
                                                               you wrote
in my O.E.D. that 30th renewal when the summer snapped
and hissed suddenly like a bullet of coal flung from a fire
place or a dumb swallow who dove into the pit for pay. Kiss
her, and it’s good luck. I palm this lucky trade but the soot
never sells and I never sailed away on a gulf stream that divides
continents from ourselves. But only half of me is cracked, the
other is launched on a wild bob, a buoy, steadfast in storm. I may
sail to Asia or I might waft aimlessly to Spain where my hemp
first dried from the rain. My messages wring from the line,
unanswered, pressed sheets from an old wash or the impression
of a holy thing. But don’t pull no science on this shroud, the
date will only lie. She’ll tell you it’s sacred, even sell you
a piece of the fray. She appears on the cracked ravines of this
country like a ghost on the windshield of an oncoming
train. She refuses to die, but just look at her nation
without a spare penny to change. My wear is a glass made
clean through misuse, the mishandling of my age as revealing
as my erased face, Indian head of my stick birth, my battle
buried under an island of snow I’ve yet to get to. What could I do
with this neighborhood of avenues scattered with empty shells
of mailboxes, their feet caked with cement like pulled up
pilings? Evidently, they haven’t a word
                                                       for regret
                                                                     full heart.
Someday, I said, I can write us both from this mess. But the key
stalls out from under me when I spell your name. I have to fake
the O or go over it again in the dark, a tracing of differences
spilled out on a sheet. If I could stick this back
together, would it stay? It’s no rope, I know, and no good
for holding clear liquid. I gather a froth on my gums, and grin
the way an old woman grimaces in a morning mirror. I was never
a clear thing, never felt the way a daughter feels, never lost
out like you, never drove. My moon waits at the edge
of an eagle’s aerie, almost extinct and the eggs are fragile
from poisoned ignitions. I’m never coming out from my cup
of tea, never working loose the grease in my hair, the monkey
grease from my dancing elbows that jab at your shoulder.
But I write, and wait for the book to sell, for I know
nothing comes of it but the past with its widening teeth,
with its meat breath baited at my neck, persistent as the smell
of a drunk. Don’t tell me. I already know. It’s just the rule of
the game for the jack of all hearts, and for the queen of baguettes;
it’s a cul-de-sac for a joker drawing hearts.

"Drawings: For John Who Said to Write about True Love" by Lorna Dee Cervantes, from From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger. Copyright © 1991 by Lorna Dee Cervantes, Used with permission of Arte Público Press, www.arte.uh.edu
Source: From the Cables of Genocide: Poems on Love and Hunger (1991)
More Poems by Lorna Dee Cervantes