Law of the Letter
Asking questions got me yelled at. Better, I learned, not to know the secret but to know it existed, catch the sound of whispers but not their shapes. Don’t be shitty, Dad said to me when I thought I’d make a joke instead. Eggshells hid under the carpet. I thought it was funny. Fourth grade, I went to the state spelling bee, got tripped up on a word I knew, I can never forget – sachet. How cocky I must have become, I said to myself, to rush through such a familiar word. Talk about a joke. To be ditched by the only dependable knowledge: the order of letters, so confirmable. Letters have always soothed me when my parents couldn’t. No words that can’t be put into order. I loved taking names from the phone book to alphabetize them, finding the rare ones beginning with Q. Even now, when I need to sleep or steady myself, I run through the alphabet. Listing cities, poets, flowers, skeleton elements, sacred places, systems of belief—anything that can be put into order. The words in their places unadulterated by silenced or secret meanings. Visualize their shapes in sensed order, a skill no one wants anymore. There is spell check; there is sorting column X, A-Z. There are sentences I can write now: You don’t have to win the spelling bee. You didn’t deserve to be yelled at. You don’t have to finish the list.
My Wife Falls Asleep to Friends and It Streams All Night
And I’m left awake
to decide when to mute the timeline:
maybe, the one
where they swap apartments
of radically different shape and quality
in the same building,
or the one
where everyone has a good laugh
about how silly Phoebe is
to follow her mother’s advice
when the woman killed herself, lol.
The next morning,
Monica and Chandler may be married
but that night
they will still be arguing
about the wedding.
The next morning,
are blinding in their fabricated uniformity
but that night
into the mouth of a common person.
All the jokes
that unwound silently over us
as we slept
recursively find their sound
the next evening:
Joey tries wearing women’s underwear
but stops because it makes him seem gay.
Chandler enjoys watching red carpets
but hides it
because it makes him seem gay.
Ross curls himself around Joey in a nap
and everyone runs to see for themselves
because it makes them seem gay.
Kathleen Turner shows up as Chandler’s drag queen dad
and everyone loses their minds.
Every twenty-five minutes
they are twenty-five again,
splashing around in a fountain
on the Warner Brothers lot,
dancing according to their archetypes
twenty times a night
The perimeter is paved
for people like us
to drive through
and take pictures.
Wide, deep water
submerging four dissolved towns:
rooms where couples slept together.
You pull over, suddenly
recognizing your own unmarked attraction.
Lead me into the woods
to show me what was once a house.
Boggy steps slump
to the sunken leaf-layered hollow
that was the cellar.
I won’t go so far
as to descend them.
Around the next bend,
the observation tower.
At the top,
we press our faces to the glass.
Our arms touching from shoulder to wrist,
we lean on years of carved names.
Islands that were hills
rise below us.
We stay, close, a long time.
It’s dark as I drive, alone,
back to my city: pragmatic, alive,
beside a breathing ocean,
its monuments preserved.
The moon is half-visible
high above the street,
I turn the tap.
Water has also traveled
from there to here,
from the watershed we observed
to my outstretched hands.