I was reading Paul Celan.
I was spilling coffee on the pages of Paul Celan
which had been in possession of at least four of my friends
and maybe I wasn’t reading exactly but resting my faded eyes
on a chestnut-haired woman approaching the back wall
and it became clearer then that it was her
in the flesh for the first time in ages
after many fluid months of separation
kept me light as an arrow in my own skin.
She was unknotting the brittle laces of her Clark’s desert boots
under the crucifixion taped to her wall in Brooklyn.
Airplanes bruised the apartment with their squally departures,
morning noon and night made warm by white Christmas lights
tangled in the large, clear window overlooking the L train.
I thought, as she painted her toenails on the sink,
preparing for the movie we had planned for weeks to see together:
I want to spring on you like a verb,
like a wartime cat snatching a rare mouse from the floor.
She read on the floor in a little cave of phone light
while I slept. She wouldn’t describe those nights
to me the next day. I wanted to fuck
in the mornings. She’d say, but I haven’t slept.
I told the diner waitress that she was home a little sick.
“Sick because of a baby?” she asked.
The parks were empty at night
except for violence. There was a cat who survived
ten winters. I felt brutal toward the neighbors who fed it.
It was bright and hot as Rome
when I went out to buy the pill at dawn.
Rilke said a lover who shows you the wilderness of eternity
still stands in your way.
I watched her smoke outside the coffee shop.
She put her headphones in and breathed out her nose,
in her button-up dress and Birkenstocks, sleeves tight down to her forearms.
She looked up the Avenue at the Empire State Building,
sun flashing off its glass. I thought about all the feelings I have had
about her in my life. The tremendous volume of
feelings, more for her than for almost anyone
on earth, so that daydreams are like composites
of those feelings, even when they refer
to distant fields or dark houses.
It reminds me of the woman who feels birds
portioning the sky inside her.
When she arrives home after spending an afternoon
with friends, she makes herself sick
imagining cockfights and feathers, birds eating each other,
a plate of something unprepared left by an open window.
I’m thinking of Jason Molina.
I’m thinking of friends I barely know.
Four lumpy white walls, no heat yet. A huge storm
wafted across the Atlantic towards a spiral swell.
Water and deadly wind. The thick olive-green curtains
hung on the pummeled window. Over the hearty Bolognese,
we watched videos of men digging for IEDs
dissolved in suddenly bright explosions. I spooned sauce
into my mouth, subsumed with a body that tries to hide
on a flat nightfall of dirt. I was something you would find
in the grass on a fled suburban block.
I saw her, as if with my left temple
and I drank the warm beer faster than the other four,
who knew what I did. She was smiling, not drinking.
Music was more than anyone in the room.
Michael Juliani is a poet, editor, and writer from Pasadena, California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in outlets such as Sixth Finch, Tammy, CutBank, Prelude, Pigeon Pages, NECK, Washington Square Review, the Los Angeles Times and BOMB. He has an MFA in poetry from Columbia University, and he lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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