POEM CLEMENTINE ASKED FOR
Heading towards the gynecologist on the crosstown bus
I have begun a handful of poems this year–– “Clementine told me to write a poem about”
and so, too, this one begins. You demanded I write a poem about
YOU today, and not the kind I wrote the other night, which was really about J, and how much J loved you. This one is supposed to be about how much I love you, not J.
Funny to write a love poem on the crosstown bus. I guess you grew up here too, in the middle of your life. We did not know one another as children. A woman in furs next to me must think I am heartbroken, or that you are dead.
The night we lay in your bed after the girl I played basketball with as a child died––she was still a child too, we knew each other as children––I think you probably thought I was crying about that, or maybe about the wonder of having my girlfriend’s body next to mine after all this time and I was
crying about all that. but I was also crying at the four of us, and it was when you shifted, got your elbows by my ribs, your head near my head, that I was struck by our own collective luck. To lie here at 22 or whatever, to get to lie here.
It didn’t matter that a lot of our friendship was about understanding other loves anyway, stripping pastries or kneeling on carpets or up in bed and gesturing emphatically. Tea getting cold, the kind I sent that woman away with to the island when we said goodbye, and you were always asking me the right questions about her, like why, still, why?
or that one day walking in July’s breeze towards the water. Then running, under the highway, hard to hear. Holding hands under fireworks, surrounded by strangers in a dully familiar world, and then running ice cubes over your skin. Things moved quickly between us that day, as they did all spring and summer, giddy with the prospect of newly-knowing an old friend. I wrote about currents that summer: “whole currents of things unspoken.”
but I think lots of people understood you understood them. my ex, who told me so after just a few hours, and it made me want to kill him. Or like when the woman I couldn’t see properly came to visit for that week in August, she said she didn’t want to meet you. You weren’t in the city then anyway, but I think she knew she wouldn’t be able to handle the look you would have given her. The idea of her running from the beach, scrambling into a car, you tearing after her, with your hair all wild behind you, so loyal,
or rabid, makes me laugh.
And isn’t there something to be said for the day I stormed from a building we had made into a library, and wandered in the grey wind of the afternoon, unsure of my own body without you in the room? It wasn’t the first day I had wanted to slap you, shove your boniness, the thing you never understood was how bony.
but I loved when you showed your tiny overlapping teeth; all my favorite people in the world have overlapping teeth! I tried to think about it. I guess you shouldn’t be smoking but we all liked that about you. Even when you thought you were pregnant and your hands shook about it. You were diligent about certain things, clean about others, strident about most. Stubborn about everything. About what and when and where you wanted to eat. Definitely Chinese and definitely not Mexican, and definitely scallion pancakes, but definitely just that and definitely nothing else. In these ways I thought we were similar. Adamant sounded like a word that you should name your son.
Yes, you should still cut your knotty hair, because wouldn’t it be striking short around your cheekbones, but yes, I also like it when we lie in bed and you rise to pull it up high. Amidst your little things. Easy to tell stories about your things––when there were few of them and all special, linen or garden-green or shell, pinned up around the room––especially when your name is Clementine. Sometimes it’s important to call you Clem in the poems.
That grey day I found myself walking to that coffee shop you love to hate, but in a good-natured way. Most of your hate was good-natured, but I guess I couldn’t really know, because I hadn’t seen you in that many dark places, especially not sophomore year. And the days you were heartbroken were nice for me, because you sang so loudly, like a real lament, and then you slept in my bed; still, I’m sorry.
My phone was dead. Nothing to do but buy you an overpriced chocolate chip cookie
knowing it wouldn’t matter whether you ever received it. We would laugh that night all the same, wouldn’t we?
“Get angry at you for your neglect, wake up, make up” I had written to my lover––with you all that but the making love. You taught me what I needed to know about myself.
From that first night, with your white cush bedspread and your photographs on the wall and your poems
which made me think you knew yourself already, had grown already
trying to explain. Trying to tell you a long story. About who I was. Had come to be. I’m not sure if you knew I’d never said the words that way before.
the words always came out kind of smooth and kind of right when you were egging me on.
But I guess that’s the way life looked to you, very sharp and clear and more beautiful, even in all its ugliness, and especially in mine.