Friday, November 07, 2008

Don’t Do It
For Carl T (9/2/1944—4/1/2007), with thanks to
The Band and Dylan Thomas

I was black magic
woman, dancing in thirties
velvet when we met,
my dress from an antiques shop
cut down to fit my body:

110 pounds
of rocking silk in DeKalb’s
simmering cornfields.
You drank the long, hot summer
from a bottle of Jim Beam,

introduced yourself,
and we talked all night in your
apartment above
an insurance agency.
Fact: We never stopped talking,

even when that meant
late night long distance calls from
places like Texas,
my husband rolling over
in bed, passing me the phone:

“It’s Oh Hi, again.”
Then, when we were divorcing,
a rough patch when you
tried living in my upstairs
in Seattle—which didn’t

work, and your father
drove you back to Illinois
for the tough struggle
to get sober: Brush with death,
hospitals, the halfway house,

coffee, cigarettes.
When your father died you sent
me the soundtrack to
The Big Chill”, and that told me
we had become middle-aged.


A few years after
I decamped to Mexico
we started taking
vacations together, in
Zihuatanejo mostly,

still staying up half
the night talking, watching lights
dance across the bay,
tuning your guitar to waves:
the optimal spot to write

songs. Those songs
reproduced, began to form
a critical mass:
a poetic, musical
X-ray of the times we’ve lived.

The surgical steps
to bring it all back home, safe,
on a c.d. took
so much energy, and time,
that suddenly we were old.


One night your phone call:
“They told me I’ve got cancer.”
Then the treatment starts;
6 month’s after my former
husband’s death, I am hopeful—

and even more so
when your e-mail comes telling
me that you need sun,
have bought your Zihua tickets.
I decide to fly there, too,

feeling too old for
all night bus rides without sleep;
but once I arrive
at the bungalow and see
you are now a shadow, so

transparent that palm
trees and the beach pass through you,
hope becomes anger
at your refusal to live,
at your holding on to shame.

Saying “Don’t do it,
don’t break my heart” in silence
is really a drag;
watching you spitting your life
into a wastebasket, and

smoking your death, two
packs a day of it, pacing,
refusing to eat
or bathe, is seeing you go
gentle into that good night,

when rage is the spark
absent from your tobacco.
On April Fool’s Day
the sun rose on your last waltz:
You did it, you broke my heart.

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