The hot thumb of day’s end presses on my neck
as I wind the cords of phone, laptop, kindle,
check to be sure I haven’t left anything behind.
It’s been a long two weeks and I’m ready to leave.
I ask myself:
Are you really the man I once married?
If by married I mean taken into my bed at nineteen,
our skin as new as a rain-pelted street in morning,
a motorcycle the heartbeat of our love—engine throb,
dash of mud, bewilderment—then, Yes,
we lay on a wood floor, entranced by Coltrane, birthed
those boys, dug for happiness in a half-acre garden,
settled in a old farmhouse leaning into ruin,
and so how can I understand the wilt-yellow thinness
of your arms now, the way your breath rattles in your throat?
You, a lover. You, a man who once ate
fresh picked strawberries, fingers sweet.
I helped with your final ordering, folded blankets
tumbled in the closet, sorted tools on your workbench,
washed the dishes in the sink. Said goodbye.
This is the memory I carry, a knotted bracelet
that flaps like woven psalms around my wrist,
roar of jets in my ear, scattered spots of light
in a sleepless night. Let this be what we put
into the bowl of our grief—the lemon sun
that beat on us, left us sticky with buzzing,
our arms sleeveless in the heat.
Once you breathed on my shoulder,
a sigh of delight. Now
your hair has fallen out. Your tongue
swollen and stiff. I take this with me back east.
Below me darkness, an endless
turning as miles rough-wing by. I shift in my seat
looking for comfort. When you’re gone—still
a drift of clouds, soft drag in the browning field,
Mountains fall from the map.
I hold the ghost of who you were in memory:
scarlet kingsnake in Florida grass, the black
Angus pulling on his rope, the garden left to be buried
as dust and ash drift in. Your connection to me
moves in the bodies of our sons.
We land soon in the gusty glow of morning.
Judy Kaber is currently the Poet Laureate of Belfast, Maine, as well as the author of three chapbooks: Renaming the Seasons, In Sleep We Are All the Same, and A Pandemic Alphabet. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Atlanta Review, december, Crab Orchard Review, Hunger Mountain, and Spillway.
This is incredibly rich and vivid and worthy of every honor it receives. Wonderful writing.
“The hot thumb of morning” drew me in – the rich and complex weaving of emotions and the history of a relationship kept me reading to the very end. Beautiful work.