“I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.”
— T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
After the audition we sat in a restaurant
and ate burgers, chatting around how I performed.
Me, my dad, and the boy I loved,
who will always be a boy with skinny legs in corduroy pants.
. . .
I remembered this scene while brushing
muffin crumbs off my daughter’s chair, feeling the
ache in my lower back, calculating it has been
over twenty years, and fifty pounds since I was
the girl in that restaurant booth–
smiling, clutching my boyfriend’s hand-
our slight, ringless fingers!
. . .
I knew I’d done okay, and I knew without a doubt
I would go to college there in that city, or that
I would never go to college there because an hour was too far
from the fragile, little life of moments I’d collected like
dandelions and daisies,
that wilted the instant they were plucked from earth.
Turns out, I didn’t go, and didn’t stay
with the boy, with his compact body in argyle sweaters,
nor did I become an actress, or dancer, or poet
of whom to take note.
. . .
Please don’t say you are sorry for my loss,
when I tell you my uncle has died, because I am not grieving,
not in the sense you might imagine, but in an introspective and selfish
way that pulls the ribbons of my age into question,
how they twisted and turned around the sun nearly forty times.
Do you see that?
I am about to be forty, and people are starting to die.
. . .
The search ensued for a memory of my deceased uncle,
who wasn’t old and wasn’t young.
I found his gentle voice and kind eyes and the side smile
similar to my dad’s, and other uncle’s, and grandpa’s side smiles.
There was fondness that wasn’t closeness, and
there was no memory as sharply focused as a merry triumvirate
eating after the audition.
Why is the memory so sharp of the sweet, thrilling relief at having it done,
of wearing a paisley skirt and turtleneck,
of smelling my boyfriend’s cologne on my fingers after
I touched the back of his neck in the car
on the way home?
If I wrote this poem in my college class, they would have said:
No, no you can’t do this.
This is three different poems.
It does not make sense.
And worse still, it is self indulgent.
But this is a poem I can write now, as I near forty,
and can write in any way I like,
for life is too short to not do what I want,
to remember things as they were, in dim restaurant lighting,
if I so choose.
All these strings, I hold in my hands,
hands that are sore from holding babies on my hip in a manner
that stretches my thumb back from its socket,
hands that brush away crumbs in a pedestrian dance,
hands trying to tie loose ends up into neat bows,
hands pecking away at keyboards,
as if I could bring something back,
or at least keep that tiny part of myself that was not afraid
to stand up and audition for anything.