When Loren first told me
there was such a thing as ageless,
it seemed like a concept so far away,
unthinkable and untouchable.
Now I mount the stairs
with the timidity of a mouse,
unable to satisfy anyone,
including myself, and these days
I find life fits together like nesting boxes,
tucked inside one another,
too small to carry anything of substance,
a little too snug to slip away and fall.
Dear, I worry you need to find someone
who might suit you more tightly,
filling emptiness only youth can fill,
perhaps a couple boxes short of ageless.
The hotelkeeper, Marika,
does everything she can to make
this place what its name suggests:
friend to strangers.
I'm an odd Odysseus
dragging a suitcase up
a hundred stairs, huffing,
embarrassed I'm still searching at my age.
I'd just as soon hole up in my cabin
than fight my way along cobblestone paths
with half the heart I had
when I played soccer here as a boy.
I hesitate to hold onto Marika's arm
since men don't touch married women in Greece,
but she senses I am struggling,
takes my elbow anyway, stares straight ahead.
We don't need to say anything—for this final leg,
she's a silent figurehead guiding her sailor home.
Everything smelled of paint thinner,
to some degree, around my father
and our house. A foreign perfume,
or a man’s spicy cologne.
It circulated down the driveway
from the beds of tired work trucks
to the can-full garage, through the yard,
never empty enough to play in.
There was a lone lilac bush
just on the other side of our fence,
begging me to breathe in her fragrance
every morning, but instead, I rose
before the others to inhale my father
as he loaded paint on the pickup
with one hand, pulled lovingly
on his non-filters with the other.
Cigarettes, paint fumes, and stale whiskey—
an intoxicating concoction of scents.
They followed him day and night,
and I respected his aura of thinner.
It hung everywhere in the air,
just as a father’s force lingers
forever heavy in a man’s life.
Strange how our jobs seep out
of us unnoticed, undetected
except to those who need us.
I wonder if I smell of lead pencils,
new paper, coffee, and chalk.
Where could I live better? Below, the brothel caters for the flesh. And there is the church which forgives sin. And there is the hospital where we die.
Winters and springs have passed, piggybacked
like you and I. Now it’s time to separate, unfair
it seems, for seasons and fili to be pried apart.
I know this, and you feel it, too.
I’ll never make it back to the island. I’ll die here
in the back room of Public Works, or in a swivel chair
in the windowless office of a college. I expect that,
so do you, some place private where you loved me.
It doesn’t matter who I am writing this for,
or where this bottled little song washes up.
I will change as change is mandated. I’m a man
of nearly sixty summers hurtling walls of waves.
I thought I had found something; I’ll let you free.
Then I will be what the world sees.
THE DINNER GUEST
I listen in near reverence
as you open the oven door and release
a story of how your world has changed
in recent months since your mother passed,
eaten by disease, and leaving you
with just the crumbs. I sit here humbled,
a third wheel, little more than a stranger.
I suspect you may have needed to nibble,
slow steps in your journey to this place,
so alone, pursed mouth and crumbled heart.
And I swear I can picture your mother,
shaping your hair into her own ‘50s hairdo,
adjusting your beige, dated scarf
as you head out to your new job, one
you hesitated to accept when she lay ill,
though she’s not really here with us, appears
only in your tender nod toward the vacant place
reverently set at her antique oak table.
Why was I not made of stone like thee?
—from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
To turn a deaf ear not enough
to rid one of this past year’s pain.
The silent king of fools, you might say.
Forgive those who abandoned, sent
you to prison in the bell tower?
Or is forgetting as high as one can climb?
They cannot pray here, they are heathens,
to whom talking is like dancing.
Somewhere inside they must know love,
but love’s sounds are buried by tinny bells.
And now they try to seek forgiveness?
There’s not enough room in my stone heart.
Even if allowed to escape this ruin,
I’m as shapeless as a man in the moon.