A Long Time Ago

We did the very things
we never imagined we would do. 
		                           And it's too late now,
I've had a long look at you.

it felt as if I'd never had any other life at all:
I woke up wearing a black crêpe dress, sangria lipstick,
        and a tooth-crunching headache, dark and sharp.
But I remained a masterpiece
                                                      of composure
didn't I?

Nothing ever ruffles you, you noticed and also how
I was not beautiful, but self-mastery
		                                 can have the same magnetic pull
as beauty, can be so powerful 
that molecules and people 
realign themselves in a room. 
The days that followed were a blur.
There were times I couldn't even hear
my own voice; it was hollow 
                                           and infinitely far away.
I didn't eat for two days.
          The doorbell rang and rang.

I was busy reliving the moment where you and I
ran up the library steps. 
Your navy shoes, the rain flecking our faces.
I fell in love exactly how you'd arranged it.
                With my connivance, sure.  But still.

                It was refreshing to find someone
			       interested in me
	apart from my achievements or misfortunes,
not always prying for more 
or trying to pick my life apart like a fish split in two and splayed open—
					                         those messy pin bones everywhere.
You sat me down and told me
				                    the truth.
Even if you don't like Poe, he invented the detective story.

That was a long time ago. 

There was the evening you stopped me in the doorway
to pick a thread off my sweater.
	Days later, I sat up suddenly in bed at the sound
			               of your voice
speaking clearly in my head.
Come here. 

When I knocked, the door had opened
quicker than I'd expected;
			I was staring out at the street
		thinking of something else.
You stopped me in the doorway
to pick a thread off my sweater.
And how spectacular to be reflected in your eyes.
I couldn't understand what you were saying,
I was too busy
              turning your words over in my mouth,
those delicious syllables.
I heard you say: come here
Then the amber-colored everything,
	       like the afterglow of a dream.
Your Cézannes and owls and playing cards,
the closeness of your face in the dark.

There was a certain disorientation
of being the wrong girl,
with the wrong man, in the wrong apartment. 
But what can you do 
when someone implores you: come here
                                             and reaches for your hip.
And their eyes can see inside of you.
And they know you've got the blues.

What song is this?  I asked
to have something to say.
			My loyalties were all over the place.
		My hands, everywhere.

And even then,
despite everything,
			                       it still came as a shock to me.

The next day, you used the words think and love 
                                  as I moved my breakfast around the plate.

Do you even know what love is?
What it looks like? What it tastes like?
How it shimmers for a second 
			                               before it turns to ash
and moves right through you like a ghost in the room.
How it tastes like two takeout boxes,
the clinking of glass,
another red mouth full of teeth.

Weeks can go by like that,
                and it gets harder and harder not to be hungry. 

You said I hate to keep harping on this,
                                   but you really must eat something.
Yes, I know.
My parents said Intelligence isn't everything, Julia.
Yes, I know.
Yes, I know.

I like fried eggs! I like jam and toast! 
I can eat four slices!  I can eat the whole loaf!

I was speaking in a very loud voice, everyone
		                        pretending not to hear.

Really, my wolfish ego eats everything in sight,
           devouring affection and paperbacks, demanding
           loyalty and silence and caffeine.

But the body is weak, 
can be turned to off like a lamp.
                                                             That's what I did.  
Meaning: the sculpture will emerge, 
              but only when we stand still
              and are patient.

 Look at me, I'm talking to you. I
could see inside you, too: 
                                                     all that art and math and regret 
                           adding up, mixed together, 
slowly frothing over. That's why
you could sense my loneliness. 
              Black tea, that's the ticket, you knew.
No sugar but a heavy splash of cream.  

You told me things would get better,
and they did. 

that was a long time ago.

It's been 
a while now. 

This Sunday morning, I woke up late
and climbed from a heavy,
complicated dream.  Nothing left
but a ringing in my ears.
                  Someone who looked like you
put ground glass in my food
because I had no discipline.
	I am telling you this dream for a reason.

Because heartbreak
is my great secret, too. Don't you know—
almost everybody's got one.

Don't you know
that I never stopped loving you
so much it ached inside of me and almost felt like
         a sadness                  
                        but a certain heaviness can take over, eventually
it prompts 
a gentle goodbye at the gate, a parting glimpse,
our fingers tangled then no longer touching.

There is
          a death haiku for this,
accompanied by a gorgeous piano elegy.

It doesn't really have a name.

that was a long time ago.

All I am trying to say is
                                          Hello, old love.
I am still waiting for you.
You've always been a planet
	                                        without an atmosphere.

What I mean is that you're smart.
				People like you.
	They tie themselves
in knots for you.
I did.

A long time ago. Although it was unlike me,
          I itched to reach for your hand
and when we were alone, I took it. Remember?
How  sensational to be holding your hand,
to wake up next to you in the morning. 

You took me to the mountains. 
Taught me the difference between ebonized wood and true ebony. 
Swept the hair off my face, gently. 
			By September, everyone noticed my appetite had improved.

	You'd be surprised
what small, everyday things
			can lift us out of despair.

24 thoughts on “A Long Time Ago

  1. Great art and craft – my favorite poetry I’ve read online since I can remember. I haven’t read The Goldfinch, but can it really be more interesting than this? (Nice bathtub photo too….)

  2. I find that the voice you have in this piece, the cadence, the way you speak about a moment- I find all of it resonating with me. Thank you for hitting the post button.

  3. Wow. Honestly, long poems like these frequently bore me and seem indulgent… but this one had me riveted. I love your vulnerability, your intelligence, worldliness, creativity…. I’m so glad you liked my poem because it led me to yours. Keep writing, please.

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