CAN'T GET OVER HER
I had been waiting
waiting for what felt like lifetimes.
When the first girls stayed out of the ocean
a few days a month, wore shorts instead of a swimsuit
I watched them enviously.
I even stayed out once in a while, pretending.
At last, finding blood on my panties
I carried them to my mother, hoping
unsure, afraid--Mom, is this it?
She gave me Kotex and belt
showed me how to wear it.
Dot Lutz was there, smiling, saying when her Bonnie
got her period, she told her
when you have questions, come to me, ask me.
You can ask a mother anything.
I felt so strange when she said that.
Mom didn't say anything.
The three of us
standing in the bedroom
me, the woman-child, standing with the older women
and the feeling
there once was a feeling
that should be here,
there once was a rite, a communion.
I said, yes, I'll ask my mother
but we all, except maybe Dot,
knew it wasn't true.
My nephew is distressed that he's still
in love with the girl who went back to her boyfriend—
the one who's not good enough for her.
When he ran into her again, she had that same bright laugh,
like the shine on an apple, and the wind rose
reaching up into the limbs and fluttering
the leaves in the whole apple tree.
But when she left, it hit him all over.
She was headed for her boyfriend's house, she'd walk
quickly in the brittle March night.
He'd have a fire going. She'd unlace her boots
and offer him her mouth, her lips still cold,
velvet tongue warm in that satin cape.
He didn't tell me all this,
of course, but who hasn't longed
for that girl? that boy? He's mad
at himself that he can't get over her.
He's young and he's got goals, quit
smoking, gave up weekend drunks. Now he tackles
model airplane kits, one small piece at a time.
He wants to learn mastery. Sweet man.
Should we tell him the truth?
That he'll never get over her. Love
is a rock in the surf off the Pacific. Life
batters it. No matter how small it gets
it will always be there—grain of sand
chafing the heart. I still love
the boy who jockeyed cars, expertly
in the lots on New York Avenue,
parking them so close, he had to lift his lithe body
out the window those sultry August afternoons.
He smelled of something musky and rich—distinctive
as redwoods in heat.
I still long for him
like a patriot exiled from the motherland,
a newborn switched in the hospital, raised
in the wrong family. Each year that passes
is one more I miss out on. His children
are not mine. Even their new
step-mother is not me. When she complains
how hard she tries, how little they appreciate it,
I think how much better off he'd be with me.
And when he has grandchildren
they won't be mine either. And when he's dying—
even if I go to him—I'll be little more
than a dumb bouquet, spilling my scent.
We don't get over any of it. The heart
is stubborn and indefatigable. And limitless.
That's how I can turn to my beloved, now,
with the awe the early rabbis must have felt
opening the Torah. And when she pulls me to her,
still, after all these years, I feel like I did
the first time I stood in front of Starry Night.*
I had never known, never imagined
its life beyond the flat, smooth surface
of the textbook. Had never conceived
there could be these thick swirls of paint,
the rough-edged cobalt sky, the deep
spiraling valleys of starlight.
*This painting by the nineteenth century Dutch expressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh is frequently reproduced in art books.