Some nights no matter what I do
the words come out in red.
‘I’m going in…’
something a soldier might say,
preface to a rescue …
I don’t want to hear the rest…
a child, this time,
playing a game that he will lose,
but there will be more…
there will be the fishing-out part,
more words in red.
I’d been thinking all day about
our trip to Niagara Falls…
for me a kind of apostrophe
at the end of the world…
between 2 chasms,
a dance of water
I was unprepared for.
Did they have to shine those rainbow lights
like a floor show
that makes it all ridiculous?
And how the two sides didn’t match,
but one makes the other more absurd.
And how we felt a bit sheepish,
to cross over,
forced to show our passports
just to look backward at the side we’d left,
wondering if the water was deeper, faster,
the boatride cheaper,
the humid night one hour less oppressive.
My camera lens was wet with spray,
our hair was damp and limp
and the falls were exhausting.
Nothing, nowhere, was a souvenir I could relate to.
I couldn’t tear myself away:
the scale, the noise
cheap snacks in the shape of falls, whatever that is,
endless wet rainbows and the noise,
photographing terror, the noise
and everywhere a certain boaty smell
of death or rot.
I didn’t fail to note the irony
of Iceland, where the falls went up.
To a soundtrack of squawking ducks,
that sulphury smell,
you asked me to marry you.
But we too were on the way up…
or at least you thought we were.
I felt like throwing up,
the way I did at Niagara after inhaling the spray
for so many hours
or maybe it was the ice cream I craved
like an antidote
which seemed to annoy you
though by then everything about me
except of course the sex.
And after days of driving through
tired dialogue rehearsals
and your famous car soundtracks,
restless sleep and petty disagreements
were all the foreplay
we could muster.
At Niagara we were definitely
on the way down.
It pushed us to a kind of edge—
the sight of it, the nauseous humidity,
the gradual and thick surprise of night,
the ringed moon like a prop,
the distances you had to walk
just to get away from the crowds,
the whining children, fat families eating
and the smell of Canadian beer,
the crushed sun-heated cans,
overflowing garbage pails,
I kept trying to imagine my young mother
still a virgin
between 2 continents,
on the edge of a world,
as high as she had ever been,
as far from home, as close to a future,
and her lover with his purple hearts.
She must have felt safer in his arms than I in yours.
The blue raincoats were a disappointment.
Bagged, and helpless and absurd in the filthy
it was anything but romantic.
And still I couldn’t leave.
They say things have not changed
so much. I don’t remember men
with beards and golf shirts
telling us from late-night TV sets
how much they earned
this month alone selling real estate
in spare evening moments.
In those days these hours were for love,
front-stoop cigarettes, for sweating,
glass of lemonade or gin-and-tonic,
Now these hours are cheap, for TV sale.
Nothing is real—certainly not estate,
and not these over-groomed
glib strangers who find their
way into our sad bedroom
to tart up otherwise naked hours
with unbearable reminders of how
at home despite safe quilted beds
our children pay men to pierce holes
in those tender bodies
I have stayed awake so many nights
to save, to heal, to wipe away their sweat and tears,
I pretend not to care, although there will be a toll
for this, a punishment
for other sins I will commit tonight,
permission to undo, which I refuse.
Things hurt more, the social worker said,
at this age.
I’m going in, he said,
But first removed his coat,
my sweet boy,
with no description.
After all, who wasn’t once 5’2”
So I have a new man now---
love doesn’t hurt
the way it did with you.
Maybe I was piercing myself
while you looked away.
I know he doesn’t open letters
like you did,
read my poor tired words
with anything but obligation.
I am sick of knowing
you define your life as happy
depending on some woman or other,
how close you are to tracking her,
that’s when you feel the best.
I gave you up for this:
a man who doesn’t fight with me
about the Falls, about car music,
doesn’t read over my shoulder,
cares little for my poems,
fucks with experience not desperation.
some nights no matter what I do,
the words come out in red.
Why did he pick that
one part of the river?
I’m going in, he said,
a fireman’s last words.
If it had been Niagara,
would he have jumped,
would he have as considerately
left his coat,
a legacy or proof he handed over
to his sister
so they would believe her?
At least they believed her.
And things hurt more at this age,
the man said,
although they go on piercing
and drowning in dark rivers,
and hating you for saving them,
because I would have jumped
into the coldest waters
to hold anyone’s hurting child close
but it would not have comforted
like the sucking down.
I am an outsider,
lack the strength.
I am the Falls.
These children do not want
our pathetic passion,
our blue raincoats,
our blankets and cameras.
They need to jump
some nights, no matter
what you do, see
words come out in red.