For Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009)
The friend, the late formalist who slips into my last REM cycle—
whose new language I can’t get or hear in the swarming
dream-terminal, but it’s urgent to try, there’s something she must
tell me now, holding my wrist rougher than she means to—
leaving a mark I know you won’t believe. You’ll say I’m wrong,
it’s crazy, the wrist’s barely black & blue. As usual, you’ll say,
I’m reading too much into the explainable this February
morning when we step over the running puddle
where the snowman was. I won’t say what I see in it—
that it’s almost like any form, living or not, must be fled
the minute it won’t hold up to light—
& I won’t talk about the screech of sharpening knives
I hear when the cross-town train pulls up, & I won’t say
how, in the tunnel between Vernon & Grand Central,
commuter latte spilling into coat sleeves,
I’ll catch you trying to read the urban tags
scratched almost invisibly into the train’s
blackout windows. Why else do we endure (excuse
the euphemism) the inconvenience, if not for secret
messages—some hint it continues? I know the ancients
dropped coins on dead eyelids for some ugly boatman’s tip,
but could that money have been for a hoped-for,
can’t-be-wished-aloud reversal, however fleeting,
of that one-way, mind-wiping trip?
I won’t say my formalist’s hair is wilder now,
her clothes slept-in & stained, as if from some grueling layover
between terminals. You’ll say—and you’re right—a dream made me hurt
myself, & it’s just that it’s still the same winter—new
year, different decade—when she taped up every gap in her
Hudson-view loft, no more oxygen let in, not even an atom,
no book, not even the first-edition Auden, worth taking
or staying with, not the overphotographed skyline you & I pay
to go to & run from.
But her stronger-than-I-remember grip: maybe
they cover their tracks by leaving only what fades?
No, it was me doing it, my own clothes slept-in, my
own need for more than what the evidence gives.
You’ll say you know I’m wrong: my wild hair,
my own hands stronger than I remember.