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July 15, 2014 Poetry

LETTER TO L.:  UNSENT

Rae Paris

LETTER TO L.:  UNSENT photo

I want to tell you I get it, what you told me that summer and every season after, the quickening October dark, falling leaves inside your bones. How some days you can’t leave the house, other days you can’t stop crying, the ways you attack hair and skin when your body goes numb. Your Dark Days—the months before and after your father’s death—that’s what you call them.

I’m just warning you. If we’re going to be friends, you should know this about me, what happens.

That summer, kids took buses from projects, Bayview Hunter’s Point Portrero Hill Sunnydale, high-sounding places anywhere else might be beautiful. They came for poetry. Words, we said. Language. Sometimes we sounded certain, told them what they already knew, how sound can hold maybe save us sometimes, but rarely buys us bread or love. We sent them home to the definite promise of bullets.

That summer you cried a lot, played your father’s records, Jazz and Blues, made me salads, dried cranberry hearts on mounds of dark green. We laughed and danced in sun in concert, the Fugees at Golden Gate Park. Ready or not? Sometimes I pick that summer as the beginning of the end of belief. It’s easy to blame you who refused to hide, always hanging your skin like the laundry on the fire escape outside your bedroom window inside out to dry.

You didn’t want anything more from me than what I could give, a hand on your shoulder while you breathed panic in and out, listen to you cry, say it isn’t your fault, hold you, or do nothing. What could I say or do I wouldn’t say or do again next year and the year after that, but that didn’t matter did it? You just wanted me there. For me, that was everything.

I did okay.

That’s a lie. I was never there, even when I was, not just with you. I couldn’t break the self you’d already cracked wide open. I listened to you cry and wished you could be like the rest of us: take some pills, drink, smoke, go about your day, battle bloodmares in the dark. I wanted to be like you. I didn’t want to be anything like you. I did what I could, afraid we’d swallow each other whole like Sula and Nel—your father dead, my father living but long absent. One of us had to be strong. That’s a lie too.

You didn’t want anything more from me than what I want now, someone who will let me disappear, be in the room sometimes a covered ball of light in a corner, maybe say something maybe not, hold my head in her lap, run fingernails down my back like my grandmother used to, press a hand to my forehead, say breathe.

In your last note, after I wrote you my father died, in your one and only sentence you said you were sorry for my loss and wished me peace, like one of those white-gloved slaps in plantation movies, like I held my hand to my mouth and said, Damn it’s like that then. Like we were strangers. We hadn’t talked for a year. The fight we had before this doesn’t matter, something stupid and important. We were both right and wrong. We were done. If death doesn’t bring return then nothing can. I was glad for the break, months of quiet slips into years. When a friendship that long ends that easy I wonder, but it hasn’t been easy.

Some nights I can’t sleep. Some mornings I can’t remember why anyone should open her eyes. This morning sky thick with rain. I wait at my desk for something to happen—sleet then flurries then snow. I want to call you and tell you it’s snowing in spring, this weather sucks, some days I hate living here so much I want to start walking anywhere, other days I run free on trails of ice, splintered bone reminds me of life below. Days like this I can’t remember sun or sky.

Sometimes it snows in April

I want to call you and sing the Prince song, discuss the proportions of his tiny frame, imagine his tongue together, stay on the phone for hours like we used to. Those days are gone. It’s only April and already I’m somewhere else counting the months to my sister’s phone call, how they found our father choking on his own breath and then nothing, the message I can’t erase after almost two years, an arm a leg the space behind my eyes I can feel it my body creasing, the changing inward December fold. So this is how it goes. 

I get it now.  I do.

 

image: Caleb Curtiss


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