The Afterlove

I

Chittering cricket in the city, wake

the sleeper eyes agog, double take;

thunder rumbling the apartment above,

rhythms and rapid moans of fumbling love.

An ashtray smouldering on the night-stand,

he takes a cigarette in trembling hand

and tries to think of nothing, traffic lights

flashing dim through the window, up the heights

and rain falling in crackling snake whispers

while he thumbs his lighter the switch hiss-purrs

and fire flashes, a tantalizing tongue;

a drag of the cigarette, his head hung

with heavy thoughts, shadows, old memories

from a former life while the ember flees

from the last bit of cigarette, his face

veiled, the light gone out from that lonely place.

The cricket chirps.  A question?  Or a plea?

He does not answer it, but silently

stares toward a photo that is face-down

of a woman with curly hair, a crown

like sunlight itself, now his world but noir,

that woman gone.  Somewhere else.  Somewhere far.

The climax above gives way to silence

he feels the throb of emptiness, the sense

that Afterlove is like afterlife: death.

It settles in.  He breathes black plumes of breath.

The Afterlove is like the afterlife: unknown

as he listens to a cricket, alone.

 

II

The carts rumble and creak, the train slowing

as it passes through the black hills, going

toward the city, and beyond the hills;

lightning flashes as she awakes; she feels

alone, the man beside her a stranger

in her bed, the wedding ring a change her

head accepted, but not her heart awake

in the insomniac country, no break

from day to day, but at night the disguise

slips off and she goes to the window, eyes

seeking the highway and that haunting hint

of what could be, what was, of what he meant

when he sent that anonymous letter

that was blank, unmarked, as if to get her

to fill it with the words she wanted said,

but which, like the wind, could never be read

except with searching fingers now the train

rattles in the black breast of the hills, rain

falling somewhere faraway, on dark glass

like the pane before her as the nights pass

to a cricket chorus among the woods

while dreamers lay beneath nocturnal hoods.

The man exhales, and rolls to his side,

but does not wake, reaching for his new bride,

clutching her vacancy; her depression;

it has been weeks since their last love session

and gloom brings rain, at last, to the window

trickling and salty, sparkling in the glow

of passing headlights along the highway

while she wonders whether or not to stay.

Her heart hitchhikes from car to truck to car,

riding the rainy road, traveling far

out to the city, to the heights and lights

while she stays here for these Afterlove nights

Shattered

He smoldered within the mirror
while the late evening drew nearer,
a Summery Saturday night
after a long stretch of daylight.
The mirror was a wedding gift
from his parents, before the rift
that had ruptured in its due course,
bleeding out as a bad divorce.
His wife watched as he primmed himself
in her mirror, nearby the shelf
where their old wedding photo stood,
the two of them framed in fake-wood
and kissing in front of a crowd,
all of their parents very proud,
but now he dabbed on some cologne
and combed his hair, (full but two-tone),
while flashing his straight white teeth
rounded by a beard, like a wreath
that was finely trimmed, each hair snipped,
and, not noticing her, he quipped,
“Still lookin’ good, you handsome stud.”
His wife waited, feeling like mud
while he got ready for “Poker”,
a word spoken like a Joker.
She said, “That’s lots of cash, Jason.”
But, being like a Free Mason,
he never spoke about his games
or any of his friends’ real names.
He would just say, “I sure will win
with a little help from some gin.
Then I’ll get in the scoring zone.”
Despite the cash, there clearly shown
packs of rubbers through the leather:
things they never used together.
The rings reminded of the ring
on her finger, a gaudy thing
he had exchanged in a Pawn Shop
for money he earned with a mop
in an old fast-food restaurant—
the place they met, their Friday haunt
now closed down, its windows broken
and its name nevermore spoken.
“Can you stay home tonight?” she said.
“I’ll make some fresh banana bread.”
Adjusting his belt, and his crotch,
he then checked his true Sterling watch.
“Sounds good for breakfast,” he replied.
“And how about eggs on the side?”
She saw herself past his shoulder:
the wrinkles now looking older
than he looked in his corduroy
and cowboy boots, dressed like a boy
ready for a good do-si-do
and maybe, too, a rodeo.
He could have passed for his thirties,
strutting despite his old hurt knees;
like a rooster touring his coop
and crowing loud atop the stoop
while all the hens gazed in wonder
as they felt his booming thunder.
Whereas her figure had swelled plump
long after she had lost her bump
to a sharp scalpel that had left
her cute navel a scar-crossed cleft.
Marginalized in the mirror,
she saw things now brighter, clearer,
and knew that the once happy Past
passed like a young boy, running fast
to the end-goal, to be a Man,
while yearning to shorten the span
so that he never grew wiser,
becoming too soon a miser
who forgot birthdays on purpose
and treated life as a circus
eager to pack it up and go
leaving her behind, a sideshow.
Anyhow, he prepared to leave,
buttoning up each cufflink sleeve
and putting his wallet up front
to bulge his pocket, give the runt
the outline of a bigger hound
to be picked up from the dog pound.
And yet she was in the doghouse,
knowing he left to hunt the blouse
at another girl’s street address,
something that, if he did confess,
he would do without any shame,
saying, “It’s just a Poke-Her game,”
all the while grinning with an air
debonair—so Devil-may-care.
She glanced at his wallet laying
on the bed, its stuffed folds splaying
to reveal a lot of money.
Her tone pleading, she said, “Honey,
I hope you and the guys have fun,”
while her world was coming undone
as she watched the man she married
grin at himself, his face varied
from the face he wore with his wife
in a normal day of his life.
This rare face came alive
and he hummed just like a beehive,
its combs brimming with sweet honey,
or a day in May: warm, sunny,
the fields alive with flowers,
Though those colors had not been Ours,
she thought, since the day we married.
No, our colors have been buried
deep in the Past, deep in the earth,
just after our son’s awful birth.
My colors wilted in their bloom,
uprooted, torn to make some room
for the fruit of our Love, the child
he hated, abused, and reviled.
But it was my body that died!
My body ripped apart inside!
Then we couldn’t make love at all
and his love became very small.
After all, it’s true, what they say
about Love and how it won’t stay,
but fades over time, no matter
how perfect the daily platter.
He just never valued something
if it couldn’t warm his dumpling.
“There’s a good movie on tonight,”
she said, clutching the pistol tight.
“It’s about a second chance…”
He did not give her a first glance,
turning away from the mirror,
checking his watch, the time nearer,
and so, heading to the door,
he said, “Good night, babe…” and no more.
She heard him start his king-cab truck
and leave the driveway, her eyes stuck
on her reflection in the glass—
eyes wide while completing a pass
up and down her war-torn body;
all used up, her forlorn body.
She aimed the pistol at her heart
and, at the bang, she broke apart.

A Bad Hand

A heart hanging from one sleeve
and from the other, sleight of hand,
there comes what some may conceive
a double-dealing wedding band
bet by the sly Queen of Hearts
on a deck stacked with a Joker,
thus rife with many false-starts
in games of Love so like Poker
where a Full House might well win
lest beaten by Five of a Kind,
and the only gambling sin
is losing the game in your mind.

Honky-Tonk Heartbreak

She croons over the Karaoke boom,
voice as smoky as fresh-charred barrels of oak,
white lightning across the busy barroom,
both hot and sugary—whiskey cut with coke.

She is a rough woman weathered with age
and the seasons of dragging a heart on sleeves—
hollow-eyed, denim-thighed, veiled on the stage
with her auburn hair the shade of Autumn leaves.

She sings her Loretta Lynn like a dirge
for the Man in Black, lost deep in his cup,
her soul rising, fermented, in a surge,
dividing the hot whiskey from the syrup.