Letter from My Father
My father, your grandfather, the youngest, only
child in his family born in this country,
worked at a leather factory, moving up
from the mail room to Vice President.
When I ended up in a cell overnight
(before Harvard and med school, mind you),
I knew he would be upset. My father,
the crooner who should have been
the Jewish Sinatra (his parting song
to the grandchildren he knew and those
he wouldn’t get the chance to meet—
“Life is just a bowl of cherries”), opened his mouth
to speak, and instead began to cry, I knew
I’d never do wrong again
if I could help it. You, son, you are a bit
different. I think you inherited that trembling.
I didn’t want you to go into Tim’s apartment
when Bellevue released him. I was scared
for you, even after the fact.
Anything could happen. Still, I was proud
you took him there, proud
he came to you, knowing you would
not shy from his hurting. Nor will you ever
from your own. You’ve always known
right from wrong. It was hard to watch you
suddenly lost and lonely, for a while. But
it was your own heart you were learning;
that takes time. You’ve had to cut yourself
loose from a few bad branches. Your eyes
got so wide when you were young. I never
knew exactly what you were thinking,
I just trusted you. I loved taking you to school.
I told you I’d miss it, and I do. My last
child, you kept me young, younger almost
than you sometimes seemed. The sweet things
in life / to you were just loaned. So how can
you lose / what you’ve never owned?
I used to carry you everywhere. You’d run to me
like a little horse, so serious. I remember
the first time you beat me in a race, you just kept
In the Summer of My Twenty-Eighth Year
—after W.S. Merwin
In the shower this morning,
I have a conversation
I’ve already had. I tell myself
that years ago, when I was younger,
and depended on only a handful
of visions to bring me closer
to myself, having sex
made me lonely.
Of this handful of visions,
there are only one or two, maybe
three, that I can touch.
These are the touches I need
to feel close to myself, to say
to my deepest loneliness (bless you)
that I am here. When I lay back in
those years, I did not need to feel close
to whoever was next to me. I needed
to feel close to myself. And
when I felt further away
than ever, because I suppose
I had somehow expected something
different, I felt my life would be
impossible. I looked at my loneliness
and could say nothing. And it would
not blink. And I would not leave its side
for anyone, for a number of years.
And slowly I became myself.
Slowly, still, I become myself,
wondering always who I will be
when I am older, when I am so close
and content, there is no distance between
who I am and who I want to be: a figure
and its shadow, connected at the feet.
I will always want the impossible
tinge among the many hues.
When I am older, I will miss who I am
now, as I already miss who I was
in those years when I lay back, afraid.
When I was younger, I missed
the man I am now, not knowing who
I would become. Impossible. And I miss
the days that go by, thinking of this.
How I’d Like to Love Someone
How two dragonflies, having circled
each other and found each other ideal
in unromantic terms, become attached
mid-air, and stop to alight on one lily
or its stem, and stay there together perfectly
still. And, once they have finished
their unromantic, ideal business, how
one departs and the other remains, circling
that lily a long time, as though looking
for an other in place of itself.