This Is Not an Elegy

At sixteen, I was illegal and brilliant,
my fingernails chewed to half-moons.
I took off my clothes in a late March
field. I had secret car wrecks,
secret hysteria. I opened my mouth
to swallow stars. In backseats
I learned the alchemy of guilt, lust,
and distance. I was unformed and total.
I swore like a sailor. But slowly the cops
stopped coming around. The heat lifted
its palms. The radio lost some teeth.

Now I see the landscape behind me
as through a Claude glass—
tinted deeper, framed just so, bits
of gilt edging the best parts.
I see my unlined face, a thousand
film stars behind the eyes. I was
every murderess, every whip-
thin alcoholic, every heroine
with the silver tongue. Always young
Paul Newman’s best girl. Always
a lightning sky behind each kiss.

Some days I watch myself
in the third person, speak to her
in the second. I say: I will
meet you in sleep. I will know you
by your stillness and your shaking.
By your second-hand gown.
By your bruises left by mouths
since forgotten. This is not
an elegy because I cannot bear
for it to be. It is only a tree branch
against the window. It is only a cherry
tomato slowly reddening in the garden.
I will put it in my mouth. It will
be sweet, and you will swallow.

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