“What I Did” Paisley Rekdal

My copy of this book of Rekdal’s poetry is so battered. I’m going to have to get a new copy at some point…

Here I am again, standing in the snow, watching your long mouth tell me
how you couldn’t stay,
not after this, not after what you’ve done, a phrase so insistent in its blame
I have to repeat it
for months to myself, years; hearing the cool, dark plover of your voice dip
and rise inside my translation:
me, too thin, too broken-eyed, drunk and awkward and even shy with the lover
I walked into a bar one night
and haphazardly found, the same way I once found you, the foreign stars hovering
above, inside me-

What I’ve done, what you’ve done, two bad songs together braiding
into myth, fingers
curled into the neck hair along my collar, and all the familiar adverbs of doubt
pocketed inside my speech:
those sometimes, those maybes, those patterns so deep in their ambivalence
about desire
that to unravel them I had to turn myself into another of your enthusiasms:
the Spinoza and late-night Kurosawa
movies, the scotch and the aikido and the Epsom salts, the pseudo-Socialist philosophies
matched by a fanfare of cynical slogans
(you chuckling at a colleague once over drinks: She has no head for politics, really)-
Stuffing your childhood
so fully into mine I could obliterate my own, red bike dented in the rain,
the friend’s car careening
off the bridge upon a slick of ice and a father leaving a mother
one April evening
outside the candy-scented drugstore and her saying, All my life, I knew
he would never love me.
What I did was put on a yellow dress in early spring, let the snow fall all over us.
I stacked anger
under the kitchen sink, pressed my ear to the door each Sunday that you called up
one of your exes,
listening to these strangers’ names enumerated in our darkened hall
till I could feel them
glowing in my bones, until I knew their rage, their insecurities,
until I wore the very smell of them
the way I wore your t-shirts, sweaters, coat; yes, the way I watched your past solidify
even as your new ring disappeared;
someone must have stolen it, you said, your towel mixed in with someone else’s
at the gym and the gold ring
knotted inside it like a secret along with a pair of socks. And me?
What I did was picture him,
the long, strange fingers unwrapping your ring: claiming it, wearing it,
and coming to imagine me.

For years I told myself that this was love: strangers wrapped in golden secrets, ex-wives
who curled beside their phones,
the beauty of my blank expression pale as the sheets we first made love in: as the walls
I tacked our smiling faces on,
as the ice melting underneath my boots where I stamp and shiver, nine years later,
listening to you tell me
how I turned us off like a switch in a museum so that all the beautiful pictures
and statues and fountains
fell into darkness the way the moon falls into a river: empty and cold and alone.
What I did was break the dishes,
one by one. I let loneliness turn me into the third person. Can you guess the punch line
to this joke? One night,
a woman walks into a bar, stumbling slightly in the snow. What she does that night
she’ll do again: a betrayal so simple
it takes an hour at most. It’s what the man does later to her that’s difficult. It takes years
for him to tell her
just how her love is never good enough.

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