Poets at Lunch by Stanley Moss
Sunday, working and listening to Frank Sinatra. Trying to gather the pieces of my life back together, and I know, maybe, you are getting tired of that. But — as much as I hate saying it, as much as I hate hearing it — it is what it is. It seems my life comes unglued every now and then, just when I think I had it all under control. Especially when I think I had it all under control. Call it the sound of the universe laughing.
It’s poetry month, and it’s ending, gosh. I used to be so obsessed about it. T., the aspiring poet. So new. So green. Such a girl. It took years before I can let go of that. I’ve lost my illusions, but not my love. I just think, these days: corners are precious and I feel safe here.
Last night, standing in front of the television, preparing food for my dog, my sisters and I saw a trailer for this movie. S. asked, I wonder what’s in the afterlife, if it’s beautiful. My hands curled around warm rice, I wanted to say, it does not exist, but I stopped myself. For a moment I was unsure. I remember Tolkien, his Middle Earth, how elves feel that death is a precious gift to men, because there is an end, it is not all wandering. I remember Queen, I remember singing, Who wants to live forever? Who wants to love forever?
You know what’s absolutely marvelous about Frank Sinatra? It’s the phrasing. You find your life there, in the way the words come out of his mouth. When he sings, I pick myself up and get back in the race, you feel the punch, you think, I can do this, you can’t count me out yet, you bastards. When he sings, It had to be you — the exhilaration, like you were Billy Crystal running in his tight jeans across New York, trying to get to Meg Ryan just before the clock strikes New Year’s — you get it. Completely.
You don’t write anymore, says a voice in my head. Half-truths.
My sister is going to get better.
A wine bottle has been sitting on my table since I can’t remember when. I’ve drank half of it already. It was pretty useful while writing letters.
I cry my heart out, it’s bound to break, Sinatra sings now. I’ve loved him always, I think. I think maybe this is the longest love affair I’ve ever had. Maybe I loved him even more than I loved you. Since nothing matters, let it break, he sings. It goes on.
It goes on.
Poets at Lunch
to W.S. Merwin
I said, “Nothing for the last time.”
You said, “Everything for the last time.”
Later I thought you made everything more
precious with “everything for the last time”:
the last meditation, the last falling asleep,
the last dream before the final makebelieve,
the last kiss good night,
the last look out the window at the last moonlight.
Last leaves no time to hesitate.
I would drink strong coffee before my last sleep.
I’d rather remember childhood, rehearse forgiveness,
listen to birdsong or a Spanish housemaid singing,
scrubbing a tiled floor in Seville—
I’d scrub and sing myself. O Susanna
Susanna, quanta pena mi costi.
I would strangle the snakes of lastness
like Herakles in his crib
before I cocked my ear to Mozart for the last time.
There is not sky or clouds enough to cover
the music I would hear for the last time.
I know a bank whereon the wild thyme of
everything for the last time grows, covered with
deadly nightshade and poison hemlock.
No last, no first, thinking in the moment,
years ago, you prepared the soil in Hawaii
before you planted your palm trees, then shared
most of your days and nights with them as equals.
You built your house with a Zen room.
I made no prayer when I dug a hole
and pushed in a twelve-foot white pine,
root ball locked in green plastic netting.
I did not cut the netting, so twenty years later
a tall, beautiful, white pine died.
I lynched the roots. To save my life
I would let them seize, cut out a bear’s heart,
I would partake in its flesh.
But you would die before you’d let them kill that bear.
Again, I say, “Nothing for the last time.”
You say, “Everything for the last time.”
Sailor, I would have killed a stranger
to save the world. Sailor, you would not.
We kissed goodbye on the cheek.
I hope not for the last time.
Home, I look into my brass telescope—
at the far end, where the moon and distant stars
should be, I see my eye looking back at me,
it’s twinkling and winking like a star. I go to bed.
My dogs, donkeys and wife are sleeping. I am safe.
You are home with your wife
you met and decided to marry in four days.