"Go out for milk," the man's wife tells him,
so he does. On the way home he takes a wrong turn,
finds himself driving out Seven Bridges Road.
Past the coast guard station now, he doesn't stop
or turn around, even though he knows the road dead-ends
at the bay after the last bridge, nor does he think it strange
he can't find his way back to a house he's lived in
for twenty-some years, but instead he thinks,
Look where I am. He begins to notice his own breathing
and tries the in-through-the-nose out-through-the-mouth
method, like Maggie's yoga classes teach her,
but he's not thinking about his wife or home now.
Instead he's thinking, There might be a boat waiting
on the water's edge—then he can go out to the middle
of the bay and really hear the breath that fills his lungs
and enters the blood pumping his heart, and he likes
the feel of full lungs, the feel of his heart relaxed and full—
but somewhere a mobile phone is ringing and the man takes
a sharp breath, the car swerves, he feels a slight squeeze in his chest
as he fumbles for the right button, only to hear
Maggie's static-ridden voice, "What the hell is taking so long?"
The man stops the car. He tosses the phone
into the wavering dark of the marsh grass.
For now, he sits and breathes and tries to enter
the regular rhythmic expansion of his heart.
In Santa Monica she held
a string of beads to her throat
and I told her the blue
matched her eyes and the green
her tattoo, that dragon etched
into her foot. Years later,
she wrote me long letters
on cream paper in seasoned ink
telling of temptations,
her pain, and of its escape.
When I asked her to come home,
when I tried to persuade
the gold-craggy coast out
of her, she only said
New Jersey had gone gray.
She left behind our bare
beaches for the sunlight
that bleached her blond hair,
and slept on someone's
rooftop for a month,
her face brightened
by windburn not sunshine.
But she was steadfast
about never coming back
to the winters she left
behind, and now that things
have gone bad again, I can't reach
across the broken-bottle blackness
between us to bring
her home. California
is no place for her to settle
down, the bluest water
still deep enough to drown in.
I try to ignore those fathers
and mothers, who taught
that steel beams are better than
the soft tips of grass, foundations
cannot be made of soil and root,
that stability is all.
But three years in a city can take
the wildness out of you. Words
become concrete, thoughts like
cracked sidewalks. You always know
where you are going, when to walk,
when not to. This is a place
with appointments and time budgets,
where early morning is a time to get going
instead of talk. Last night
in a bar on Delancey Street
your breath collapsed on me.
I'll tell you, there is still that urge
to fight over quarters at the pool table,
stay till closing, walk home
on a less than brightly lit street.
I can't help noticing
how your sigh fell from me
onto water-stained wood that had long
forgotten the falling of leaves, the thrill
of a storm wind. My mind rises high
above the squareness of buildings,
the blackness of asphalt, tries
desperately to leave this vacancy
and take you with me.
© 2017 Christine E. Salvatore