What I want back is what I have lost. I can express it only in metaphors and self-proclaimed legend. And by reciting a profane parable: so let us begin with this fiction, subtitled The Sexual Fantasia of the Middle-Aged Man.
Imagine a journey of return, Seattle to Newark on a half-full red eye. Beside me, picture a young woman, perhaps a UWash student. The official punk uniform: purple-streaked cropped black hair, pale skin, black tank top and skirt. She boards the plane with no time to spare, slam-dunks her knapsack into the overhead, flops down beside me, then dozes off as soon as we’re aloft.
Asleep, leaned back, she leaves half-exposed the rise and fall of her left breast. White. Or let’s use the poetographic image: “alabaster,” which is both objectifying and inaccurate, for I cannot exclude my tactile imagination of fondling, of the rounded firmness and the nipple hardened beneath my fingers before we proceed to the range of standard exercises.
She wakes for the meal, Faux Mexicain à la United, and we exchange pleasantries about our reading material, my wife and kids, her boyfriend waiting: then (almost shyly?) how she gets off on attractive older men, and how I (with a Eureka!-rush in the pit of my stomach) like mature young women somewhat beyond the age of consent.
Were this more than the sketch of a fiction, how we get to what happens next might belong to some novel or in the hypothetical movie version where you could see the faces (Alan Rickman and Wynona Ryder) and hear the heavy breathing. A bare recitation of events, then: reading lamps soon are shut, whispers proceed with uneven breath, the seat divider is raised before I suck on her salsa-flavored tongue, slide my hand under her tank top.
“What do you know about fucking in airplane bathrooms?” she whispers. I should tell you candidly that I have been in airplane bathrooms, and for that reason alone fucking in one is something I can barely imagine, let alone describe. (Perhaps those of you who have actually done this can send me a methodology.) But imagination and need, here as well as in the tale, must go where they are led. So in here in this tale, we manage it all the same, a circus contortionist’s act somewhere over North Dakota: not bad for a pair of strangers in the middle of an air pocket.
At Newark she walks on ahead, her boyfriend (also punk hair, lip ring, nothing a surprise) embraces her. She glances back at me, quick, discreetly, waves and grins. I know only her first name, Olivia, as she knows mine: Pablo. We wisely have omitted last names, else I would have to tell her my last name is Neruda, and promise to write a poem to her body. That might strain credibility: she looks Irish, but came in Spanish.
When I get home an hour later it is almost dawn and my wife and kids are still asleep and do not stir. I do not wake them. Instead, I make some strong coffee, chain smoke, and wait out the dawn imagining the taste of salsa on my tongue, fading and finally rejected; and then write a love poem to Olivia’s alabaster left breast.
What I want back stands outside presences and persons. In the old world of computers, you might call it device-independent. It is convenient to think of it organically, as flora or a tree, its cuttings transplantable, yes, but needing soil and heat in which to grow. And taken out of Nature, it will behave not like one of Yeats’ golden birds but like a cast-off prom corsage or a wedding bouquet saved long beyond the event or the impulse of love that made it necessary. It will be saved only because it has been forgotten, and it will die.
There was a late summer in Upstate New York when my wife and I tried to plant tomatoes in our yard, along the side of the house, neither of us knowing what we were doing, products of the concrete culture of cities, but knowing only that we wanted to grow something that was ours. We had the stakes, the ties, and when the fruit began to appear we were joyous. This is erroneous: the words after “joyous” really are “too soon.” We almost beat the first frost that comes too early to that part of New York State, but not quite. What came out on the vine was green, only here and there tinged with red, and mostly inedible. Over the winter the vines blackened, curled and fell from the stakes, and when spring came there was only blight, but by then we were gone from that house. The memory of blight and failure remains.
What I want back is my perfect image of that summer, the heat that rises like the vines to curl around the house, to curl inside me so I know the joy of tasting what I have made with labor and trust in the mercies of Nature, Accident, and Time. When I picture it, I see time-lapse: fruit that bursts forth green, then turn red, pungent and scented with earth. Perhaps, then, I have defined Love: wanting to make something grow again, in a deathless place always in time and without frost.
Olivia rests quietly in a dream, visiting me with gentle accusation. I admit I lied. I am not Pablo nor ever was. I am the Firebird, wordless prisoner of Kastchei’s Enchanted Garden, set free for one night by a kiss exchanged at 30,000 feet over the Rockies, in the æther where there is no air, and I breathe only on dreams.
by Kenneth Wolman
this text is up at The Wonder Book of Poetry http://wonderbookofpoetry.org