it may be that a long time ago, as a baby,
we chose the way we tasted sugar
felt cotton and heard Bessie Smith
at 3 a.m. in the back of a dream
sitting at a table below a yellow lamp.
we blinked our eyes then had to live
between those soft parentheses
drinking wine or tearing at someone’s heart
and nightly laying our bodies down
to see a piece surrendered
that made us sane, made us hunger
for the span of some girl’s back
peering behind her, humming a chorus.
there are hues of light we’ll never see,
too subtle the taste of pepper.
but maybe if we rest tonight
say these names, feel their weight,
as your thigh touches my thigh
we can drink that blood, taste that pepper
and sing Bessie Smith like no one can
lying together in the burning, lovely night.
“What’s Ours” was previously published in Coal Hill Review
Jack Lemmon in Love
we watch Jack Lemmon and we feel better
coming back from the bar after midnight;
he looks so young, black and white making him
never blonde but paper,
a bowler hat dark against his forehead;
he was never absurd
in that he would stumble or break a wall.
he had to walk
through a lobby in an evening dress,
try not to look stupid as he strained spaghetti
through the strings of a tennis racket.
he could hum,
he could dance;
his face never gave away the surprise,
the anxious path of fingers
he must have felt upon his skin.
we come home and we feel better,
there was a couple fighting in the corner,
they could all still remember me
with little marks of inaffection.
he’s there in Twelve Angry Men,
the remake and decades later,
and he’s asking them to think,
to stop before they’ve voted,
maybe kill the little Hispanic boy
with words they couldn’t have negated,
all the pain he must have felt
passing along the thin, brass key
to his apartment
or being in love,
her fingers soft through her dark hair,
all the pain she must be feeling;
she’s there when he gets home,
in bed and she’s swallowed
white pills from his own cabinet,
and all she wants to do is sleep;
we watch his face and its breaking,
black dress and she’s-
and all she wants to do is sleep.