How I Learned to Drink Coffee



One story, one everyone sort of knows,

a sad one no one really knows

we keep from ourselves. That's how we lived, that's how we died, we self-destructed.


Only we knew how we did it, if we know?

Maybe it felt like something, at the time, not the self-destructing part

but watching ourselves do it.  

Not quite true either.


Something about all this put us on a plane to LA, spring of ‘97.

I was hungry,

the flight attendant told me we could have one bag of pretzels each.


I am a vegetarian and so was Paul.

I thought we might get an extra bag or two to make up for the food

on thin trays we wouldn't eat later.

But times were tight. The airlines curtailed ties

to old sealiners: the heyday of handrails, spiral stairs, and service.

It was almost self-service,

that flight, but for the flying part.


I gave in and chewed some organic gum.  

Paul thought it tasted weird, so he didn't have any.

Paul wasn't an easy flier back then. Packing up, and his nerves at the house.

Now he was recovering from stuffing ironed Brooks Brothers shirts into a last-minute duffel

bag, and at the same time bracing himself against turbulence,

bumpiness like driving over chunks of cobblestone.

To me, his body felt large and safe and even a bit remote, which, strangely, made me feel safe.


I hardly knew him then. He barely knew me.

In our cramped economy seats, we left behind the old rooms he rented outside Washington Square


where he cooked red peppers and garlic in a roux for me.

And played REM so loudly I'd lie on the floor, when he shut his door to work, and stretch my arms

out straight, and trace a snow angel on wooden floorboards,

let the throb of a bass overtake me. It was perfect,

it was invented, his scent and REM and the smell of the Square up against me.


How could I have known this already

was us at our vey best? Actually I think we suspected. We talked of doing nothing except this,

day after day, I made more, more angels on the floor.

We leaned down with our bodies as though the boards were soft. As though they had give.


I'm sure he forgets things too about me. We put our ears to each other and the ground and listened

for a nearby ocean that always seems to rage when it's missing.


No foam, no water, no shoreline, just a whoosh we took together as truth, for awhile.

Sometimes, after all these years, after we've died to one other, I'm not sure the floorboards aren’t

there right now, wavy and wide, waiting for others to take them up.




Baby Robin on the Sidewalk


What is this hooded baby,

whose tubular yellow beak stretches across

featherless skin like half a cross

waiting for baby Jesus to wake in his crèche,


which tolerates these prying tweezers

tipping bread-soaked crumb in milk

to its pumped-up yellow streak,

my own reflex crying out to stop?


It’s enough, this force,

this ride up my stairs in a box,

no branches, no light, no flight but the hand I’ve become

to yank a yellow smear in half, open its life up.


I pull the thick line

apart and it becomes two. My mother last spring

filled a paper box

with socks and straw,


now it is this bird’s turn

to die inside my room. I am in charge. Will it be comfortable,

more comfortable here, than way up there? 

Where will his death


seek its opening breath?

Nakedness hot and sick

swarms around it, birdless, I comfort

the lines swallowing whole a heavy crumb. 


Something happens,

and I feel its body push

against the edge of the box, not quite life, or death, but a decision

in the making. I look down.


The light is almost here

and I am forewarned. 

Light makes doubts of nakedness

and love, my pajamas soaked in sweat and feet.


I watch and cajole, my pinky poised

and useless words,

“Don’t die, not now, not yet, try this.” 

Its small eyes


closed and already old

move to one side and I can’t see

if the yellow lines are opening up

to heed bread, and a baby’s gap of life closing in on us.