September 18th, 2008

poetry, exceptindreams

295: How Could You Ever Be Fine

"How Could You Ever Be Fine"
Stephen Dobyns

for S.C.

I dreamt last night I heard someone speak your name,
two women talking about you and I went to them
and asked about you and they gave me your number.
So I called you and we talked and you said
you were fine, and I doubted it was really you,
because how could you ever be fine? What have
twenty years done to you? Where are you now?
You had the smoothest skin, a face like a beautiful
wax figure as you moved from one messed-up man
to another. There was one who used to shoot up
Jack Daniel's, and when I told him that was stupid,
he said, That's right, I'm stupid, I'm really stupid,
somebody should kill me! Until I said it actually
wasn't so stupid just to calm him. But all those men
who hit you and abused you and how you explained
they must have been right or else they wouldn't
have done it. I was too tame, didn't stick myself
with pins or know the names for all the drugs,
and had a vague idea of what I wanted to do
next week, next year. You would listen with one
black eye swollen half shut, then go back to the guy
who had done it so he could blacken the other.
I remember you told me how your mother had said
it was your duty to love her, and you shouted, No,
and kept shouting no. And when she died you felt glad,
but years later I took you to one funeral director
after another so you could find her ashes.
You said you wanted to talk to her, a beautiful
woman telling her troubles to a cardboard box.
Then you would sprinkle her ashes into the canal
and feel something, you weren't sure what, maybe
just done with something, the sense that something
was over. But either we couldn't find the right
funeral director or the ashes were already gone,
and that night you went back to the man who beat you,
and shortly after that you slipped out of my life--
a few cards, a few phone calls, then nothing.
Right now you are either out there or you're not--
smoking a cigarette, touching a sore place, looking
from the window and letting all the old faces
drift across your mind. It is hard to think of you
dowdy and forty, the problems you dealt with, a life
of some sort on track, hard to think of you making it
past twenty-five. At least in books we know the end,
know the characters died or got married, had great
success or failure. But you are out there someplace,
and your friend who shot up the Jack Daniel's,
and the guy I took the knife away from,
and the other who wanted to be a writer,
and the girl who quit school to have a baby,
and another girl who smashed the doors of my truck
on an acid trip. They are all out there, just
putting one foot in front of another, just like
the torturers are out there, and the men who worked
on firing squads, and the men who like to hit things
just to hurt them. And you are out there too,
picking your way between the paper, the tin cans,
the broken glass. You had the most wonderful smile.
On whom does it shine now, who does it welcome?
People on hard streets dragged to inevitable ends.
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