April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

You are Helen,
And charming,
And a paragon of what a woman
Should be.
Locked up in your ivory tower,
Lost without your worldly power,
Continue on your odyssey.

Odyssey—
Keep going.
You can never go home once
You’ve gone.
Sinking in your self-restraint,
You nurse your wounds without complaint,
And sing your silly siren song.

You are virtue,
And wonder,
And the girl you always wished
You’d be.
Would he love you violated,
How he loves the things you’ve hated;
You’re drowning in tranquility.

(May, 2006)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

I wear the smallest invisibility cloak.
I put it on
Whenever you look at me,
And I disappear.
Like when I left
To go run a marathon
Kitted out
In full bright regalia
And those bouncy Pippi braids I so love

Waving goodbye first thing
And toting the bag
Emblazoned with the name of the race
And you,
Blithely saying goodbye
Not noticing
Where I was off to.
Never realising that I’d gone.

I get smaller, too
Microscopic
I shrunk as you cut me from the frame
In those pictures of us
Skiing in Vermont
To use in your dating profile.
Or when you
Refused to be photographed with me
In the first place
If no evidence of us ever existed
Then no harm could ever be done.

But sometimes
It is cosier.
Insidious, almost.
Like the blanket I wear on your sofa.
Snuggled beside you
Like the whole world
Rests between your head
And my heart.
Isn’t this nice, I think
I feel your breathing and mine
I feel my chest lurch under the weight of you.

Between the beats
Your son calls
His face appears on your phone
Like a ghost or an angel
And you quickly rise
Hiding me from his view,
Invisible again.

(November, 2016)

April is National Poetry Month. In honour of that, I’m digging through my archives and posting a series of poems I’ve written over the years.

Sundappled Sunday on left and right coasts,
Beautiful from
Griffith Park to
The Staten Island Ferry;
Sunset strip
To
SoHo
I rode a painted pony in the sand.

Saddle slapping tender in-thighs,
I endured your stings.
Silent father shouting
At distant mother
Loving
Present daughter;
Riding roughshod on a tender mare.

Slow stumble upon whip-worn trails,
Round and round
We go again.
Carousel horses,
Sundappled Sunday ponies,
Perfectly painted; ready to ride.

(April, 2009)

(This is the fifth in a short series of posts)

I make phone calls all morning, and finally, I reach my first husband at his office.

Hello, darling, I say. He understands instantly why I have called.

Andrew and I always had a plan. We would stay up late at night in bed, laughing, devising ways to escape the city in the event of an attack by Godzilla or Mothra. We had our future mapped to the moment; we anticipated every contingency and had more insurance than any two young people should have had. And even now, as we talk, our voices betray that intimacy of a first marriage – where you have been young together, and loved each other in a way that you make up as you go along, and you have listened to each other throwing up in foreign hotel rooms, and have been so irrationally mad at each other that you once cancelled the other person’s credit card mid-business trip.

But my voice catches, and I cannot ask him: How did I get here? Tell me, darling, what comes next?

What comes next is that JRA plans and hosts an abbreviated shiva, but I cannot make a shiva call because I have out-of-town commitments that I must keep, and anyway I am struggling mightily with this new vocabulary of tangential Jewishness.

Arrangements are made, and dates are set, and time begins to move very fast indeed.

I drive to Scarsdale one Sunday to ride bikes with Lady H and she takes off down the Bronx River Trail like a bat out of hell, leading me and JRA on the ride in the cold, pale January afternoon. She struggles on the hills but conquers them, a far cry from a few months earlier, when even the slightest incline terrified her. As the day grows smaller, we head back down the trail, along the river, and a large, blue heron stands silently in the water, staring at me as I ride.

H! H! I holler to my budding ornithologist companion, What kind of bird is this? But she has ridden too far ahead to hear me.

JRA pulls her bike up beside me to look. It’s funny because the one person who would know isn’t here to identify it, she says with a small smile. Pete had been a lover of nature and an avid watcher of birds, and I feel a wide, dull ache in my chest flap brokenly.

The heron is still staring at me as we ride away.

The first of two services for Pete is planned for the end of January, and Andrew tells me that he and his wife will be there. He and I talk a few times before the day-of – about love, and life, and loss, and interfaith relationships. His wife is a professor of Jewish Studies, and he is a lapsed Catholic; they are raising their children Jewish. It all sounds very complex, and it reminds me of when I had to convert to Catholicism in order to marry Andrew – the Bishop came to a church in suburban Maryland to perform my confirmation – and Andrew’s parents had flown in from Connecticut in support, but to this day I believe it was to ensure that I actually went through with the whole thing.

On the day of the service at the JCC, we all drive out from the city to Westchester in a car filled with flowers and food and wine to remember and to celebrate Pete. JRA and I go to the JCC ahead of the crowd to begin setting up for the service, and for one brief moment, we are alone in a room, just the two of us – no parents, no friends, no Lady H. We have been in this sort of waiting room prior to events before but they have always been happy occasions – my weddings; her wedding; just before Lady H was born – and now, here we are, preparing to celebrate the end of the beginning.

Friends begin arriving, and the service begins, and it is beautiful. It is mostly people I haven’t seen since my first wedding, or since JRA’s. People tell stories and share memories, and Dorota reads the Horace ode in Latin that a friend read when JRA and Pete got married. And because Pete had been an avid singer before muscular dystrophy had restricted his voice, his college acapella group, the Pirates, sing a sea shanty.

As the Pirates launch into the Mingulay Boat Song, my eyes scan the crowd for Andrew, who is a few rows ahead of me, sitting with his wife. I think back to that October day, ten years earlier, when JRA and Pete were married in Boston, and she and I had shared the same wedding veil, and she had floated down the stairs wearing it as the Pirates serenaded them. I watch Andrew’s wife dab her eyes with his handkerchief, and I watch him put his arm around her and draw her close, just as he had done to me a decade before on the opposite occasion.

The next day, JRA sends me a photo taken from her front porch – it is of a murmuration of starlings; hundreds of them. They have inexplicably descended upon her street – swooping down upon her yard and doing loops over the wheelchair ramp on her lawn.

If I were the type of person who believed in signs, she says, trailing off.

And for the first time in many weeks, I feel the ache in my chest flutter a little, and start to grow wings.

(This is the fourth in a short series of posts)

I leave Argentina by way of Chile on a Tuesday night, and then fly from Santiago to New York. It is different this time than the last time I left Santiago, on a New Year’s Eve upon the finalisation of my first divorce, when I spotted a couple in evening clothes in the airport. They boarded my flight, and had danced in the aisles on the plane – getting up when the pilot had announced the New Year – looking less like a portrait of true romance than a Jack Vettriano painting, or a line from that Paul Simon song, Rene & Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War.

I remember, years later, looking at another Jack Vettriano print in a Newport, RI hotel room, that I had read that Rene Magritte had hated and been long-estranged from his wife; that Paul Simon’s lyrics were more likely borne out of his own longing than any recollection of the Magrittes’ true tenderness for each other.

My friends want to go for dim sum on Saturday following my return, and I say I will go until the reality of having to leave my house in a blizzard sets in. I text my best friend Jade saying, I am having a very hard morning, maybe I should stay home, and she tells me to go eat dumplings anyway.

Our plan is to meet at Golden Unicorn, a restaurant that takes up several floors in a Chinatown office building. Upon arrival, we are seated at a large, round table on a dais, and the ladies come around pushing carts full of little bamboo baskets. JRA and Lady H join us a few minutes into the meal. We stuff ourselves with little doughy packets for hours, and to my surprise, my mood lightens considerably. I watch Lady H tell eee her secrets – they talk about boys, and clothes, and swimming – and Michael leans over to tease me about my recent trip, and for one moment I stop asking How did I get here? And for one moment, I think that we are all going to be Okay.

The meal ends when the carts stop coming around, and from Chinatown, JRA, Lady H and I trek uptown in the snow to visit Pete at Mt. Sinai. When we arrive, JRA goes into the belly of the ICU, and leaves me and Lady H in the waiting room where we talk with the other waiting families about the things that strangers talk about to break up the heaviness of silence between them.

Then JRA comes to take Lady H in to Daddy, and I walk the halls of the medical ICU alone.

In December, they’d had someone playing Christmas music at the piano in the hospital’s atrium. The pianist had played Christmas classics, but never Merry Christmas, Darling, which was probably because it wasn’t the sort of song that lent itself to being played on a lobby grand piano. And I remembered, back in December, that I had never really noticed Mt. Sinai before. I had run past it hundreds of times; most recently in November when I’d run my final, foolish marathon, but I’d never seen that it was right there; right on the Park.

I begin to wonder how many other obvious things I haven’t seen.

It is getting late, and the snow is still falling, and after they finish visiting Daddy, JRA and Lady H decide to stay in the city at my house that night. We manage to find a taxi to get from the hospital to my house, and on the way, at a stop light, a woman tries to commandeer the cab to take her sick child to Cornell’s ER. We graciously step out, but the cabbie screams that he cannot pick up passengers below E. 96th St. Just take the fare, I tell him. But he refuses, and speeds off, and we are left with a couple with a sick kid, and a shaken Lady H, standing in the middle of a snowdrift on the Upper East Side.

The next morning is sunny and the roads are clear, and JRA and Lady H take off early for the suburbs.

That evening, I make chicken noodle soup and a friend comes over for dinner, and it is a normal, quiet evening. But at the end of the night as my friend is putting his coat to leave, my home phone rings. It is JRA, who tells me that Pete has taken a turn for the worse. We brainstorm some logistics, but I do not expect anything to change, because time is moving so quickly and also so slow.

In the middle of the night, she messages me to call her first thing in the morning. I call her when I wake up to discover that Pete has died overnight after a month-long battle with respiratory illness, complicated by Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

I say that I am sorry because I am, and because I now know that the world looks different in the moments between when your friend is alive and dead; in the hours between when your friend was a wife and is a widow. Our call is quick, and I can hear JRA’s voice, but I am thinking about a WH Auden poem as she talks. I am transported back to a clear, cold afternoon in Dublin when Paul took me and eee to the cliffs of Howth; past a house W.B. Yeats lived in. My hips were hurting me then and I didn’t know why; I didn’t know then that my genes and my collagen were bad and there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless then, as I do now.

I am remembering that late May afternoon, when we walked in the brilliant blue, freezing sunshine, and we snapped photographs over the silent sea, and we ate 99s in the howling wind when we finished our walk. And even though I hated Flake bars, I still ate my ice cream but gave the chocolate away. I thought about poetry then, as I do now, and I thought about Yeats, and about the Auden tribute, which began:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day…

(This is the first in a short series of posts)

No one is going to believe you that BOTH your husbands were crazy, Paul tells me, No one is going to want to be with a woman who has had two husbands.

I’m not suggesting you are crazy, I say quietly, for the five hundred, seventy-five thousandth time.

No one is going to believe you.

I am exhausted.

It is early December, and the night before, I have driven out to Westchester because my friend JRA has let me know that her husband, my friend Pete, is sick and has gone into hospital. Pete has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, so colds and flus sometimes quickly escalate to pneumonia. He has had a few bouts with respiratory illness over the years, and in the event that JRA is called to the hospital overnight, I go to her house for moral support and to stay with Lady H…just in case.

There is a Sameness and a Difference in the case of Pete’s illness this time. A Sameness because he has had pneumonia before. A Difference because this came on so suddenly and with such a high fever that it feels…not the same.

But everything is fine overnight, and I am driving back to the city before the sun so I can have my mane blown out before my company Christmas party. I am listening to Merry Christmas, Darling, on repeat in my Volkswagen Jetta – a far cry from the days when I was driving back from the burbs listening to Merry Christmas, Darling in my Jaguar.

Everything is different.

The ensuing day is long, and my hair looks good, and I am cautious not to drink too much at the party because I tell JRA, If anything changes, call me!

Before sunrise on Saturday morning, the phone rings, and I am on the road back to Westchester. Pete is critically ill, and has gone into cardiac arrest, and things Do Not Look good. I arrive at the hospital to take instruction and to take care of Lady H for the day. I pull out my ever-ready Moleskine and I jot down where I need to go and when.

Then we get into my Jetta and I drive JRA back to her house because in her hurry to get to Pete overnight, she has driven to the hospital without her glasses. I wonder, briefly, what it would be like to love someone so much that I would to drive to him without my glasses.

I never miss Andrew, my first husband, on a normal day. But this is not a normal day. And I think about how, many years ago as JRA and Pete were getting together, Andrew had clucked softly and mused about the Inevitability of It All. Later, I had laughed with JRA about how Andrew and I hadn’t made it, but my friendship with JRA had. Andrew and I had had a Plan for Being There For JRA when these sorts of inevitabilities arose – he was the planner, not me, Semper Paratus and all that bullshit – but now here I was and he was not.

The main thing today is getting Lady H from place to place – taking her to breakfast; her music lesson; maybe a playdate; a birthday party in the evening – and being home for the delivery of JRA’s Christmas Tree. Her parents are coming down from Boston but I am coordinating logistics until the family can arrive and take over. I am back and forth; up and down; over around and through.

As I drive around Scarsdale playing Christmas music, I think about calling Andrew, but I remember that I don’t know his phone number. We only call each other in the office and I can find his office number on the internet. I want to scream at him: Where are you? Why am I driving this Jetta and not my beloved Jaguar in that stupid red that you made us get that I got all those speeding tickets in? Remind me again of what the plan was: How did I get here?

But I don’t know how to reach him and everything feels broken.

I have been running errands and chauffeuring Lady H around all morning. At midday, I pick Lady H up from her music lesson and since it is too early to take her to a playdate, I take her to JRA at the hospital. JRA has her record a message for Daddy because his condition is very serious. I leave my car with them in it in the hospital’s front drive to give them a moment of privacy; I walk around the corner in the freezing December mid-day and I dry-heave. I don’t know how to cry, and I don’t know how to vomit, and I don’t know how to reach my first husband, and any one of those things seems like it might be good to know how to do today.

When they are finished, I take Lady H home, and Grandma and Papa, JRA’s parents, are arriving. We cannot find the Christmas tree stand in advance of the arrival of the family Christmas tree. Grandma and I go up to the third floor to search for it – but I am unfamiliar with the crannies of JRA’s large, old home. Empty handed, we come downstairs to sit and talk, and wait. The hardest work in these situations is the waiting. Later, we scour the basement for the tree stand because the waiting is unbearable.

Families, like old houses, are complex.

Later, I take one last sweep of the third floor for the tree stand before giving up. As I stand up from the crawl space, I hit my head on the low ceiling. I see stars. I crouch down to the ground while I try to regain my balance. It is then that I text RHJ, who has been asking all day how he can be helpful. I say: Could you take the train out to Scarsdale and drive my car home?

We take Lady H to a birthday party that evening, but neither the Christmas tree nor the tree stand ever materialises. RHJ arrives to drive me home in my car. My hair is still curled from the party the night before; my head is throbbing from the bump on the beam. I still do not know what happened to my Jaguar or to Andrew’s phone number or what I am supposed to be doing now.

And all I can think is that this is not my house. And not my car. And not my husband.

How did I get here?

SarahKatKim & I are to hosting Reverb throughout 2016 as a way to share writing prompts and providing a space for writers via our Facebook group. In December of each year, we host a prompt-a-day to provide structure and a way to close out the year.

Unexpected // During the year, we all have had unexpected surprises that have thrown a wrench into our plans.  What was one of yours and how did you get through it?

I closed the box and put it in a closet.
There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.
-Joan Didion, Where I Was From

It is late, and I am placing the top tier of our wedding cake in the refrigerator to thaw before our anniversary dinner. We have been married a year, the cake has been frozen for a year, and our fury is simmering to a boil.

I have spent months trying to adjust to a new reality – one in which I am no longer a Rheumatoid Arthritis patient; one in which the problem is my genes – and Things Have Changed. For instance, in April and May, when this all came about, I sat in the austere, open offices at Cornell’s fertility clinic Reviewing The Options When You Have a Genetic Disorder. I had gone through the other, more complicated and solitary pieces of the Disease Journey on my own, quickly, and what was left was the part we were supposed to handle together.  The test results were not encouraging.

Fertility clinics, in my limited experience, are grim places. At Cornell, the main waiting room was divided into The Part for Newer Patients, and The Part For Ongoing Treatment and there was a palpable divide in the anxiety in the room.

It reminded me of the one Orthodox Jewish wedding I went to fifteen years ago, where there was no mixed dancing. But I didn’t know until I got there what I was in for, and much to my surprise and horror, I found a screen separating the men from the women. My then-partner and I were ushered to separate sides of the room, and I was left to sit in the mortification of shuffling through an evening with strangers in wigs. Cornell’s clinic was a bit like that, except there was no physical screen; nothing keeping the men from the women; just a metaphysical line separating the couples who still thought they could do this on their own from the couples who were in for a long and wild ride.

It is now The End of The Journey, and the options have been exhausted – primarily because I am exhausted; after four major surgeries in three years, I cannot tolerate any more Medical Procedures – and the anger is no longer Pit of Stomach, but Back of Throat, and here we are, preparing to share a cake that neither of us wants.

In the white, Christian, upper middle-class culture in which I live, you are meant to save the cake topper to serve on your first anniversary, or at the baptism of your first child – whichever comes first – a tradition that was slightly less gross in the Days of Yore when wedding cakes were fruit cakes and could survive a nuclear holocaust. Now, if you’re the Right Kind of WASP, you’re expected to freeze your cake for twelve months, and choke down the freezer burn, and pretend that it tastes just like pear and hazelnut, not open packets of niblets corn and vegetarian meat substitutes.

(If you’re really the right kind of WASP,  you’re smart enough to simply have your baker make you a replica topper, but I did not have that kind of foresight.)

I didn’t eat cake on my wedding night. I openly dislike cake; I always have. I forgot to order a cake until days before the wedding, and then the baker laughed at me; indulged me by topping the thing with fresh flowers and the fortune cookies I’d hauled in from my ever-present stash at home. We decided against making a spectacle of cutting the thing, too. I never saw it – cut or uncut – it just appeared in slices on the tables, and in photos in my email. Someone wrapped up the topper and presented it to me at the end of the party, then it sat in my freezer for a year, nestled in beside the Morningstar Farms “meat” and the endless packets of frozen veg.

Before I put the cake in the fridge, I changed out of my contact lenses and into my glasses, which I keep in the drawer of my nightstand when they are not on my face. There in the drawer, I keep my weirdest treasures – a handful of seashells from the North Sea shore; a volume of Kahlil Gibran poetry someone gave me when I turned 13; a scrap of fabric from some old trousers and sliver of an old dress. I also keep some bits of my wedding gown – my dressmaker had preserved them because she’d made my gown out of my mother’s, and she’d said Since this is an heirloom, you’ll want these to make baptismal gowns instead of cutting up the dress. At the time, I’d laughed a little – both at the idea of my mother’s silk-jersey 1970s wedding gown being an heirloom, and at the thought of ever needing baptismal gowns. It all seemed ludicrous and far away.

And now? Now what?

Now we will go and have that dinner, and we will eat the cake and it will be gone, and I will remember to take the scraps of dress and put them away – out of sight – in a box somewhere, so they can become a memory of a thing that never was instead of a hope for a thing that was going to be. Because there is no real way to deal with everything we lose, is there?