The Lonely Vigil

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Poetry  |  House: Booksie Classic
Learning about love the wrong way is still learning about love.

Submitted: July 31, 2008

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Submitted: July 31, 2008



On our last night together we drank Lancers
& smoked pot in my dorm room, listening to
that odd jarring mix of music we brought to
each other - Joni Mitchell and Genesis, Heart
and Jethro Tull -- & not saying much, just
laying there on my cramped single bed
while the albums dropped one by one down
the spindle singing of passion that changes,
of sweetness calyxed round time’s wounding thorn.
I would fly East the next morning, gone from

the Northwest for good (or so I thought),
dropping out of college to work on my father’s
land and write big things; she would
remain to finish another two years before
heading back to Korea (or so she thought)
where her mother worked as a missionary
nurse. My bed was narrow for one; the two
of us crammed in its pew like an overmanned
dingy where every inch of one smacked
of the other.  No matter that night though,

because sleep wasn’t what either of us
wanted, and it wasn’t what one of us got.
We drank off the whole bottle of smuggled
wine & smoked another few pipefuls of dope,
growing thick and lush in our spreading glow
while the single candle stuck in on old bottle
of Lancers - relic of our first night of sex --
burned slowly down. Today I think of that
bum-fated couple’s growing glow set against
the only light in their room ebbing away

as consequents of desire’s rise and fall, shore
and sea where one shared heart is greedily
seeded but usually fails much to grow. We
kissed for a time, mouth to mouth valving
up what the next day we’d let go;
I tugged her clothes off -- t-shirt and jeans,
big bra and then those baggy white panties --
while she just lay there breathing, looking at me
in the dark from a lonely distance, trying to read
in my lust the something more that was all

that was giving up to me on any night. She
did not try to undress me -- she was far too shy
for that, even that night -- just lay there glowing
naked in the near dark & watching me fumble
out of my clothes; and watched me as I climbed
up over her and proceeded to rub my hardening
penis against her furred cunt. Letting it happen,
willing it be, though the whole procedure seemed
like praying in the wrong chapel, to the wrong god,
some far distaff or mistral chamber of her heart

cut off from her real blood. Without any foreplay
(which, I knew, she didn’t much care for anyway,
just more patient waiting while I sucked at her
nipples or fingered her cunt -- I knowing nothing
about the sutras of slow and long touching)
I then fucked her in my awkward, late-teenaged way
and she let me, her hands gripping my hips
as I huffed and pumped away, the both of us
now charged with the destiny of bodies we
understood far too little, in wonder and ashamed
with its surfaces, terrified and in thrall with

what came rising from underneath. But the
nakedness that night was real enough, her big
pillowy breasts with their rarely-stirred nipples
mashed up against my skinny chest, my hands
kneading and spreading the soft cheeks of her ass;
my lust was real enough, fanning out from
from that fish-dipping penis out to my hips &
up into sulfrous regions of my chest as if
fucking was a form of obedience to a dark
forest god whose roots were growing over
the church I’d left behind. Her eyes were closed

closed tight, willing a receipt more vestal than
venal, her goddess too young yet to be outraged,
too bound to the savage hymns of her mother
and yet, essentially so, free enough to choose
that most infinite of tendernesses, holding fast
to the one who would the next day disappear.
Her cathedral silence was real enough, allowing
the room to be filled with my humphs and
grunts, augmenting the creaking of that tortured
little bed with all it was and yet could never be.
The sweat was real enough as I humped her

to my crest, mine dripping from my face onto
hers; her tears were real too, mixing salt’s sweetness
with its thorns. And the rictus wallop of white
bliss that tore through my body was real, my
hurry to get that spouting whale of a frail
incensed penis out of her was real, the sperm
that spurted all  over her stomach was real too.
All too real, surprising, even harsh: It felt like pissing
back then, pulling out just behind the wave’s crash
& sending it smithereening & foaming over the

shore of her belly, a potty affront, defying the
teaching of mothers & diapers, every No’s
chain in my being set against letting go. The clench
which slowly ebbed our bodies apart was real
but the falloff back into our huge and growing-
by-the-moment apartness was more real,
not really icy but windy and distant, an
old, glacial feeling this earth has felt since
it was born. We held each other in that long
postcoital float away from each other, her long hair
and breath in my ear a tide I hated myself

for needing so to leave -- was there time yet
to stay? But in truth I was terrified of that sound,
I had just gotten free of one mother’s voice in
my deepest ear, love back then seemed too much
like a womb of a nest, a strangling of sticks and
strips of lace and promises. No, in the morning
I would go: And lay there waiting. She lay there
silently too, still as sleep but immensely awake.
For a while I felt her tears dropping one by
one against my cheek, warm, pissy like my sperm,

a caustic acid on a night only meant to go one way,
hissing against the iron of my resolve to get the
hell on outta there. So we just lay there for
an hour and then two, listening to the stack of LPs
as they fell from spindle to needle to be covered
over by its odd other -- “Court and Spark” “Trick
of the Tale,” “Dreamboat Annie,” “Thick As A Brick”:
mid-70’s albums, wizened down from the first
flush of big night music, older, more jaded, jazzier.
The sound of an adulthood I guess. Walking away,

Playing on. For all the great things I thought I
would soon write, words that night 30 years
ago were scarcer than AA meetings; they all
seemed so flattened and negated by the huge
hug we lingered in. Just harrow down this last
night together and in the morning say goodbye,
leaving her behind in my heart’s deepest blue.
She didn’t say much either, having used up
all of love’s rhetorics trying to convince me
out of my intent but for one: She refused to

tell me she was pregnant, coming to believe
(I here believe) only in her love & knowing that
if I would not welcome it on my terms that
night then I never could on hers.  She kept
that secret sealed in a womb where all the
future she cared for lay, something only cellular,
the merest foundations of the home we
wouldn’t build together. And so we lay there
together down the night’s slow-drifting hours,
not sleeping, not talking, the candle slowly

dripping down to a nub which flickered then
was lost, leaving only full darkness and the sound
of two breaths, rowing the final two hours of
that night. Only she made it to first light; I
nodded off, and when I woke she was gone
for good. I think of that oh-too-young couple
laying together on their final night as a pair
as I sit here writing in the eleventh year
of my second marriage: And choose to believe
that all that I have today is rounds back to
that lonely, fragrant, deepening night where

love’s candle stayed lit even when all trace of it
flickered out from the ever-breaking surface
of things, its glow burning deeper than my every
foolish thrust and parry at what I thought
coupling was about, running like a bright gleam
in the catacombs of what it would take years to
learn was my heart, thick and blue and lucent
torch steady beneath that dribble of always-too-
hasty and late-withdrawn sperm. Joni Mitchell’s
“The Hissing of Summer Lawns” playing deep
in my ear this early-summer late night a life

down the stream, the broken heart of the Sixties
turning to smart jazz, saturating in this predawn
next-century vigil of man confessing all the
errors of his heart. Three ghost children from
three lost women -- the aborted family that
I know of -- sit together on a distant beach
poured from my mortal glands, their hair so fine
in the sun, softly lifting in the breeze, their smiles
up at me so absent and pure and welcoming
that I can’t get my arms enough around this
difficult and deeply loved life, can’t wait to get

home on working days, can’t pet our cats enough,
can’t pull enough weeds from our garden,
can’t wait to get on with the long slow decline
which is the dance of a happy heart. I can’t
tell you how important the moment is when,
just before we turn out our day’s final light,
I always turn to my wife, look her deep in her eyes
(she looks up from reading the New Yorker)
& and thank her for this life we share: And kiss
her just once, almost chastely, so soft not even

her pillow indents. And yes, I know none of that’s enough
to change whatever fates are hatching through
the night, readying to break acid yolk in the next day,
for better and ill: Know that the weariness &
disappointments could easily break her will
or mine or both & pour cold water into this house
like a boat that’s been split: But I say the words
anyway, in the name of that long silent night,
and pray they’re enough to carry us together
to morning where we must get back to work again
in a paired gesture of heart which welcomes first light,

working and aging and loving in this home,
tending a candle which burns deep in stone.

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