I don’t know if this is goodbye
or the same form of farewell you began
whenever you first suffered a love
that bloomed under the attention of silence,
ether of the word drawn back
into your young body
like a barely noticed breath,
smoke returning to a gun’s barrel,
longing for the bullet.
Then the long parting
from that woman silvering the screen, from
eyes that seemed endless, stoked
by the stars, bulbs of fresh gas chaining
their azure rings on some celestial stove.
You were both the blaze
and the delicate ash, the psalm
and the stunned quiet after:
pinned to a pinball machine, asked
to find exits from your body
like ramps to so many towns,
young agent stammering through
the celluloid darkness, American girl
trapped in the world’s deepest pit.
Everyone wanted the conjurer
who manifests and vanishes
at once, the alchemy required
to step from the screen’s bared field
into the asylum of your own life.
Though it threatened to erase you
like an overexposed film—
the paparazzi’s staccato flash like a language
formed from confessional fire, built to consume
some form of the truth— you were never a ghost.
Dearest captain, mother of our intricate
sorrow, our unsinkable strength,
you have never been an island.
I met you in the photo from ’85, your skin
draped over you like a sheet over a sculpture
waiting to be twirled off: disappearing act
after which the one true thing remains.
I was 13, panicked by my love for one of the Sullivan boys,
watching him do layups in the gym in his nylon Our Lady of Sorrows shorts,
scuffed Chucks squeaking the floors.
I didn’t know then you’d been gorgeous once, splayed
across the whitest couch with Doris, clutching brushed linen pillows
or cruising the Jermyn Street baths, a rough towel
fastened to your exquisite waist.
How we met must matter—not in the thin rain of the bathhouse
or a pastel bar off Taquitz Canyon, the brown sugar of an Old Fashioned
honeying your tongue and eventually, mine, growing sweeter
as we floated in the Blue Hawaiian light of the heated pool
at Colony Palms, dropping its steamed veils—
but when I was a teenager, already with a sphere of secrets
and you in your sixties
looking like you had a minute left in this world, the sheltering hours
of your beauty and deception
running out on you like faithless lovers.
You became a ghost before the virus finished its awful cenotaph,
the kind that haunts from a photograph, troubling the house with hope,
the shutter a door that never closes but might be wished into a window
rattan shades rattling, lights from the mica sconces on the stairs
flickering on to let me know you could see me—
pulling off my Brooks Brothers suit and Delft blue
oxford, cordovan loafers shredding tassels across the top, my hetero hide—
and finally, marvelously, be seen.