A man walks into a bar. You think that’s some kind of joke?
Actually he runs in, to get out of the freezing weather.
Who cares, you say. Nobody you know.
You’ve got your own troubles, could use a drink yourself.
You get your coat, a long scarf. You trudge
to the corner over the scraped sidewalk, slip and fall down hard
on the ice. Actually a banana peel, but who’s looking?
Only a priest, a rabbi, and a lawyer you vaguely recognize—
didn’t she help with the divorce? Never mind, the marraige
is over, good riddance. You’re thinking now
you’d better have a double. You get up, holding your hip,
and limp towards the neon martini glass.
Anyway a man goes into a bar, just like you do.
He’s tired of life, tired of being alone. No one
takes him seriously; at work he’s the butt of jokes,
the foreman calls him Moron all day long. It’s true
he’s not too bright. He wants to kill himself,
but doesn’t know how to. He orders drink after drink,
cursing the angel who passed out brains.
You take the stool next to him. In half an hour
you’re pals—two losers getting shitfaced.
You start to tell each other riddles. What’s big and red
and eats rocks; what do you get when you cross a penis
with a potato? Why is there something rather than nothing?
If God is good, how is it that the weed of evil
takes root everywhere, and what is there to keep us
from murdering each other in despair? Why is pleasure always
a prelude to pain? The bartender takes your glasses, tells you
it’s time to get out. You stumble through the door,
and there you are in the cold and the wind and a little snow
that’s started to fall. Two losers stand on a corner.
One turns to the other and says, Why did our love end?
The other can’t answer. Why do they torment me? he says.
The snowstorm begins in earnest but still they stand there,
determined to stay put until they finally get it.
Sometimes what you remember is their voices again,
coming on inside you like strung lights in your blood,
certain words they’d tongue differently
from anyone else, or your own name
and its surprisingly infinite nuances.
And sometimes you remember their hands,
not touching you but draped over a steering wheel
or cupped briefly around a cigarette,
anywhere you could watch them
in their life apart from you, knowing how
they’d flutter towards you later, blind but sure,
and come to rest where you needed them.
You remember the hardness of their bellies,
the line of hair that swirls down towards
the cock, the taste of each one
that entered you and then withdrew, or lay
quietly inside a while longer before slipping
away like a girl sneaking out in the middle
of the night, high heels dangling from one hand
as her stockinged feet drew sparks from the rug.
Sometimes you wander the house all day,
the fog outside stalled the tops
of trees, refusing to rise higher and reveal
the world you hope is still there, the one
in which you’re still a woman
some beautiful man might helplessly
move towards. And you remember how one
looked at you the first time you undressed,
how another didn’t mind that you cried.
Sometimes it’s enough just to say
their names like a rosary, ordinary names
linked by nothing but the fact
that they belong to men who loved you. And finally
you depend on that, you pray it’s enough
to last, if it has to, the rest of your life.
You’re lucky. It’s always them and not you. The family trapped in the fire, the secretary slain in the parking lot holding her coffee and Egg McMuffin, the ones rushed to Emergency after the potluck. You’re lucky you didn’t touch the tuna casserole, and went for the baked chicken instead. Your friend with breast cancer that was detected too late – mestasasized to the lymph nodes, the lungs, a few months to live – lucky there’s no history in your family. Another friend’s fiancé, heart attack at forty-seven. You lie in bed at night, your head on your lover’s chest, and you’re grateful. Your teenaged daughter, unlike all her friends, hasn’t become sullen or combative, addicted to cigarettes and booze. She’s not in the bathroom with her finger down her throat to throw up dinner. You and your family are fine. You’re happy. It’s like you’re in your own little boat, just you, sailing along, and the wind is up and nothing’s leaking. All around you you can see other boats filling up, flipping over, sliding under. If you look into the water you can watch them for a while, going down slowly, getting colder and
farther away. Soon, if nothing happens to you, if your luck holds,
really holds, you’ll end up completely alone.