Friday, December 13, 2013

Never Trust a Poem That Begins with a Dream

One of the lovely things about having a blog is that friends share poems, recipes, anecdotes with you. This poem by Josephine Yu is from my friend Michelle. It was originally printed in Ploughshares:

Never Trust a Poem That Begins with a Dream
unless it’s a love poem or the dream is the one you keep having
      where you leave a raucous party—the kind of party you’re never
invited to—and sit on the balcony, just starting to tear up but not yet
   crying. Most nights the balcony is the second-story walkway of a motel
and the party is in full swing in the room behind you—The White Stripes
      vibrating the stucco and someone’s cigarette, you imagine, burning
holes in the bedspread. A man always follows you out, and as you’re trying
to remember who said “Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eye named,
            not good,” he puts his arm around you and whispers
something you never remember when you wake up, like the scene
    in an arty film where you don’t get to hear the mumbled last words.
Some nights he’s the boy you had a crush on in eighth grade
who did, in fact, put his arm across your shoulders in the cafeteria, sparks
  cascading down your back, under the Peter Pan-collared Catholic school girl
              blouse you wore un-ironically, being a Catholic school girl.
    Other nights he’s the biology teacher who told oral sex jokes but
let you take a C minus instead of dissecting the frog and fetal pig, even let
       you leave the room during the dissecting, to escape that sharp odor
and soft, snipping sounds. But in the dream you aren’t thinking
   how amazing it is you even graduated, given how much
        you refused to do and how often you skipped class to get stoned
behind the library, and you’re not realizing gratefully how many concessions
            pity won you. Instead you’re noticing how his breath on your ear
lets you feel those delicate folds of skin you rarely think of,
     the way wind moving through grass lets you see the separate blades.
But then you start to notice, too, the same adult-touching-a-child-
       in-an-overly-intimate-but-not-quite-inappropriate-way ickiness you felt
    when a family friend stroked your silky seven-year-old head and promised,
           “I’ll take you away with me. You’ll be my child bride.” And then
  you remember—in the dream—the joke the biology teacher told that ended
   “sucking the chrome off a trailer hitch.” Other nights he’s the dentist who
tightened your braces or the guy in college who sang you “Purple Rain”
               while he played a keyboard, whom you felt sorry for and kissed.
Or the Pakistani dry cleaner who proposed, pledging robust sons
        and starched slacks. But on the best nights, when you’ve fallen
   asleep with the right mix of herbal tea and Law and Order reruns,
    he’s your husband,
           the one you had or have or will have, your husband’s arm
the right weight and length to drape your shoulders as you brood
              “which God’s eye named, not good… which God’s eye named,
  not good” and his voice is warm in your hair, answering,
                                                      “It was Milton. Ready to go home?”
-- Josephine Yu