Letter from Long Island

“People always say they’ll write [letters], but they never do.”
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Today, M.,
I rode the S59 bus to Sayville,
that typically kinder
iteration of our one-traffic-light
hyphenated station-name hometown,
and though I wasn’t looking for him
I did the Catholic
gestures when I noticed the statue Jude,
patron of dashed-hope causes,
near what developers call, lamely, a wooded area
between the station
and the Sun-Vet Mall—
not wooded area but wilderness slivers
you called them the one time
you visited Sayville. You
and your mother weren’t speaking,
just like now, and she forgave
you nothing: not the screen door
you broke leaving once, not the glass bottle
she broke once, aiming for your head.
In the taxi on your visit to Sayville
we talked about legends we’d heard:
how the Sayville founders
came from Salem—
kindly witches, keen believers
in saints, and mostly people
we, blessedly, didn’t know.
My mother babysat her sister, the dying one,
the arguer, the doubter, the prankster.
In the winter
to the telemarketers
my mother’s sister would say in a sweet voice,
have a nice day,
don’t fall on the ice!

before putting the receiver down.
In the taxi during your only visit you and I
played the game
of pointing out where
we might work
had we stayed on Long Island.
It didn’t last long,
the game.
There was a school, a hotel—
check, check, goose.
Neither of us could quite
see ourselves
bussing the catering hall.
And the strangely desolate
did we ever entertain any
idea about our own progeny?
A bench, two swings, more
wilderness slivers…
When we walked
up by ourselves
on the highway past the water tower
and the “weekly trips to Florida” van,
someone began heckling you
from a car, citing your tattoos.
Write to me, tell me
what you heard them say…
I don’t think we forget so
much as edit, a redirect of
lines and roots, and then say
so “this is what I remember.”
You have proved them wrong
and didn’t die at thirty, even at forty.
My mother never got the last word
with the doubter prankster, but that’s another poem.
I think our fathers would’ve been friends;
whenever their women and children
tell stories, the fathers play the ghosts.
So. This and that. And—on the same visit, because
you hadn’t seen one in years,
and maybe already missing the city,
an anthill filled you
for five seconds with wonder,
and send me your street address,
please, in Rockaway Park.
Send me burrs from the dunes,
splinters or dust from whatever’s
left of the boardwalk.

Michael Tyrell is the author of the poetry collection The Wanted. His poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2015 and The Traveler’s Vade Mecum (Helen Klein Ross, editor; Ren Hen Press, 2016). He teaches writing in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.