For the Mothers of Berlin: Winter 2012.
(I have fallen in love)
with the hollowing out —
of sound disappearing into
the vacuum of
a subway tunnel.
Where I’m left on the platform
so I become keenly aware
of the slow-growing of
a cancerous mole; the inhale and
a menthol waiting for the subway;
of the sound when the doors close;
of crawling back
in a voicemail recording.
(Two years ago you sounded different
/hey Kim —
give me a call when you get this/.)
I can replay this moment
of thoughtfulness and
the tenderness in your voice
and I do — I let it
fill the space from ear-to-ear
I hear it and
the rattling around of it
in there distinctly.
(I won’t tell you about this part.)
I am on the train between
a man reading a book about tunnels
and a woman who could be his mother
watching the city slide beneath her.
There are small holes opening up
in the old vinyl bench seats;
(what is that place? —
where sound hits a barrier; where
something breaks) there is only
gnashing of metal.
She is looking for
some imperceptible shift
to tell her
she can die happy:
her boy has grown into a man
who reads books
on the 5 o’clock train
from the city
to the suburbs,
a sort of refrain of childhood.
There are voices out there
at night where she closes her eyes
curled up next to the pillow
that still belongs to
her husband who died last June —
the sound of sirens and loss
This is not exactly death-do-us-part
(though this, too, the punctuation
I have already planned).
2012: the winter I feared
I would share a rail car
with a man in a suicide vest.
I learned I didn’t know
how to pray
for myself or
for mothers raising sons,
(this is the great imprecision of fear).
What our world is becoming:
one in which I am waiting
for any abnormal sound
for the rush of reaction leaving
lungs to be swallowed up
because it is too much sound
to be distinct to the ear.
There are mothers gathering
wash folded freshly into baskets
for their sons and husbands on trains.
They are singing
old folk songs
with automatic words
that roll off the tongue
down into manholes
where they meet the subway doors.
Berlin, Unemployed: 2014.
I wake up my body.
This morning the sun
draws ringlet bands
on each silver strand of
I resist the temptation:
to take just one
as a template
for a painting of you.
I dress in layers and run twelve miles.
I insist on miles for this personal ritual
a measurement no one here
precisely to understand.
I return home to the window and make tea.
It is soundproof but
the sun is warm; a young woman is
rolling a stroller along the cobblestone walk
crusted with dirtying ice left over from
and the fur lining the hood of
her jacket softly rustles the spot
behind her ears
that always reeks of
the particularly human
of the body.
I spend some hours
handcutting intricately designed
greetings for people I love.
This is art now.
I hear you coming up the stairs
and shuffle everything away.
Our apartment is the hollow
homely flesh of a butternut squash
and we’re holding spoons scraping away
at the walls when I ask you
how your day was.
There is nothing remarkable to report
(this should comfort me).
The next morning I pull on the sweater
you gave me
that itches but looks gentlemanly.
like I could become something here.
And the shoes I wore the day
we were married.
I enter a building whose structure
alone is so white I think
I will need to be more
and because I am no longer at home
this is a test of my very substance.
I am seated across from another man
who knows how to cross his legs
in such a way
as to identify me. Everything I do
is a deliberate translation and
I think about it too much
trying to explain what
art is and
what I am
I spend some time after this encounter
on the train on the way to the market —
replaying this, though I do not cry because
I have tripped over words
I have only recently learned
out of context.
You and I carry
one another’s burdens;
but I fear I am becoming heavier
I run an extra mile the next day
to feel the sweat
the back of my ear
in a way that feels familiar like
miss your mother,
Though this probably will not help.
At the market, I buy fruit
I do not recognize
by its name, nor by any other.
I learn them, and this is my greatest joy.
I hear you coming up the stairs.
How was your day? — I ask,
though it is unremarkable.
I introduce you to words
in your own language
and your kiss makes me feel
like a hollowed-out fruit.
You may call me whatever you want.