Issue 127, Summer 1993
No gentle way of breaking the news: you turn on the TV
And see the rocket’s red glare: the capsule explodes,
The astronauts tumble down, and the anchorpeople
Look solemn, saying, “The nation grieves tonight.”
Sure it does, Buster, snorted the man with the pencil mustache,
Lying on the shabby, unmade bed in this most mediocre
Of motels in New Mexico. When did we stop believing that life
Was real? Was it when we let these puppets do the living for us,
As if the esthetic credo of the French symbolists
Could somehow work for us today? The questions were meant
To be ignored, which made them definitively rhetorical, but she,
His first wife, insisted on asking them anyway. She shared
His love of noble gestures and hopeless causes
Such as the idea of romantic love in a pragmatic era
When the macrostructure no longer values that unit
Of individual gratification. There was a time, not very long ago,
When it didn’t seem that way. It was the age of innocence
In a double sense, and we must have needed it badly, or else
We’d have never grown up to regret the spoiling of the planet,
The shrinking of the garden, near the graves where children play.
She went to his head like a double martini at a bar
Where gangsters gather after a hit. She wanted his baby.
They sat at a corner table, quarreling about money,
When the full force of her passion hit him at last.
He couldn’t get enough of her. He wanted her
And would always want her, though his daydreams implied
A future without her. Theirs would be a civilized affair;
They would part, go home, and divorce their spouses
On the appointed day. They were just using each other,
Afraid of losing each other, but that didn’t matter.
This was their chance to be young again forever,
And he knew he would never forget her fragrance
Or the scent of death in the hotel room full of flowers,
Her dress in the closet, as he stepped in the door.
Why couldn’t she be happy with what they had?
Everyone recommended it: her lawyer, his bartender,
Her mother, his priest. He kissed her hard
On the mouth, then stood there with a goofy grin
While she put her hand in his pants, and he
Couldn’t resist her, or bear to look at her later,
And she—she thought he had some fucking nerve
To treat her like that, ignoring her at the party,
And never introducing her to his friends. Who did he
Think he was? She called him up to say she loved him
And wondered why he was living with this pallid woman
Who answered the phone. Out of what archaic notion
Of honor, or gratitude for kindnesses and kisses past,
Long past? “You’ll be happier loving me,” she said.