by sophie

Black Mare – Lynda Hull

It snakes behind me, this invisible chain gang—
the aliases, your many faces peopling

that vast hotel, the past. What did we learn?
Every twenty minutes the elevated train,

the world shuddering beyond
the pane. It was never warm enough in winter.

The walls peeled, the color of corsages
ruined in the air. Sweeping the floor,

my black wig on the chair. I never meant
to leave you in that hotel where the voices

of patrons long gone seemed to echo in the halls,
a scent of spoiled orchids. But this was never

an elegant hotel. The iron fretwork of the El
held each room in a deep corrosive bloom.

This was the bankrupt’s last chance, the place
the gambler waits to learn his black mare’s

leg snapped as she hurtled towards the finish line.
* * *
How did we live? Your face over my shoulder
was the shade of mahogany in the speckled

mirror bolted to the wall. It was never warm.
You arrived through a forest of needles,

the white mist of morphine, names for sleep
that never came. My black wig unfurled

across the battered chair. Your arms circled me
when I stood by the window. Downstairs

the clerk who read our palms broke the seal
on another deck of cards. She said you’re my fate,

my sweet annihilating angel, every naked hotel room
I’ve ever checked out of. There’s nothing

left of that, but even now when night pulls up
like a limousine, sea-blue, and I’m climbing the stairs,

keys in hand, I’ll reach the landing and
you’re there—the one lesson I never get right.

Trains hurtled by, extinguished somewhere
past the bend of midnight. The shuddering world.

Your arms around my waist. I never meant to leave.
* * *

Of all that, there’s nothing left but a grid
of shadows the El tracks throw over the street,

the empty lot. Gone, the blistered sills,
voices that rilled across each wall. Gone,

the naked bulb swinging from the ceiling,
a brief eclipse over mine. How did we live?

The mare broke down. I was your fate, that
yellow train, the plot of sleet, through dust

crusted on the pane. It wasn’t warm enough.
What did we learn? All I have left of you

is this burnt place on my arm. So, I won’t
forget you even when I’m nothing but

small change in the desk clerk’s palm, nothing
but the pawn ticket crumpled in your pocket,

the one you’ll never redeem. Whatever I meant
to say loses itself in the bend of winter

towards extinction, this passion of shadows falling
like black orchids through the air. I never meant

to leave you there by the pane, that
terminal hotel, the world shuddering with trains.

Sonnet XXVIIPablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Telling – Elizabeth Frost

They keep telling me why I do what I do. I do it so that one day someone will do for me what I’m doing for her. They’re saying, then, that my motivation is to be, down the line, the recipient of the doing. According to their logic, I buy her the Times and irises for the bed table, renew the nitroglycerin and Cardia, throw in the chocolate that isn’t allowed, and, back home, scour the tub, scrub the toilet—I do these things in order to have them done for me, if not by her, who can’t do them (let’s be honest), then, second best, by someone else. They say that’s the reason I study so closely her happiness, her lack of happiness. And their gentleness in the telling, the lowered chin and eyes, the slow enunciation, the hand reaching toward my wrist—it all tells me that things won’t end where I think they will, that what I do isn’t like a mitral valve (thrust open, clamp shut), an act without volition, but is, like the refusal finally to turn away, something chosen, which may or may not do anything like what one hopes it will.