Certain Verve in the Library Reading Room
Beyond the tall windows,
a dog and its people were playing
with a Frisbee. If I listened close enough
and ignored my studies — that pile of books
about a Russian poet I wanted
to like more than I did — I could hear
the dog's teeth clamping the hard plastic
of its obsession. My current obsession
at the time — other than escaping the library
and frolicking in the quad with any canine
who would have me — was the girl sitting
at the far table of that long and high-ceilinged
reading room, next to the window,
whose every glance and gesture
made my throat fill with longing.
In my daydreams, I'd wake next to her
and place the flat of my hand
upon her bared hip, holding it there to absorb
her warmth, as I'd lean over and kiss her eyes open.
I once led her to a forest to pick
some wild berries, the spring peepers in full
and desperate song. I read to her with certain verve
from the Russian poet, the spokesman of his generation,
his varied frets at restraint and injustice
boring her until she fell asleep and was unable
to be roused, regardless of which poem I read.
And I tried them all: his protest over the Jewish pogrom
at Kiev, his impressions on a visit home to Siberia,
a poem for a birthday, a holiday in Georgia,
the cruelty of lovesick love. I had to carry her
back through the forest, back home to our bed,
where I lit a candle, knelt beside her, and burned
every page of Russian poetry I could find
until she stirred and broke into that beautiful smile
I'd watch on countless days from across
that grand library, hoping just once she would look up
from her textbook and meet my eyes with hers.
Second Date with Yo La Tengo
It was supposed to be a night of easy listening,
acoustic nuggets sung with the modern sensibility
of an indie rock band. Tasteful was what I had in mind,
a safe haven for an important second date.
The girl — a cute bookworm who'd rather not spend
her Tuesday night in a dive bar —
was almost enthusiastic as she sipped on a glass of rosé
and tried hard not to look at her watch.
I should have known better. It's miscalculations
like this that can doom a relationship before it begins —
the seeds of mistrust establishing and then growing lushly
into a field of pretty lies and atrocity.
So when the opening chords rang out of the unusually
large amplifier that had somehow escaped my notice,
I had to watch the body of my sweet and virtuous companion
spasm and recoil into a charming display of revulsion.
I knew right then that our future was up in flames,
wreathed in the lucent smoke that engulfed that little bar
appropriately called the Grand Finale.
But love is a funny thing, often arbitrary, always tenuous.
We survived that night. I truly enjoyed the show;
she truly despised it. Call it glorious. Call it derelict.
It was a start. And when you're hoping
to carve out your little corner of the world
with someone you can truly admire, you welcome love.
With a sweet embrace, you ask it to stay.
Slow Dance in the Living Room
Sometimes it's simple —
a little Hank on the stereo,
a breeze shimmying
through an open window,
risotto begging for attention
on the stove, a bottle of red
half empty on the coffee table,
a kiss on the neck,
and a two-step so subtle and serene
the phrase dancing on air
takes on new meaning
as you spin her with such finesse
her smile effortless once again
when you pull her back
close to your body
That's what the sign said,
at least to my American eyes.
Big capital letters on a sheet of paper
taped to a menu that spanned
the back wall of the cafe.
My first thought: how can I order this
without jeopardizing my marriage
and the proper upbringing of my son?
Second: can I get that with pepperoni?
Before I could think a third, my wife
enlightened me. She speaks the language.
It's not what you think, she said.
And that's the problem with my life as of late,
it's never what I think. Not even once,
regardless of which country I'm in.
After coffee and a cinnamon bun,
pizza having been stricken from the menu,
the day slowly tilting toward shadow,
I set off alone and follow a path
through the woods that leads to a dock
stabbing its way into the sea.
I stand at the edge and bow my head
to the Baltic, the water still frigid
despite a Swedish summer doing
its best impression of the tropics.
Not a great impression to be honest,
but aren't we all doing bad
impressions of our best selves?
Knees to chest, eyes shut tight,
head full of steam, I jump in.
I try hard not to think as I hit
the water, so clear and alive,
breaking around me like glass,
coming together unhurt. Only the path
to the dock enters my mind
as I sink toward the bottom —
that promenade of trees arching
above, dappled light filtering
through the leaves and dripping
on my shoulders with grace
as I dropped my chin, drew
another breath, and ran like hell.