This is how I see her now, twenty-two
and wearing a blue bathing suit, her first
two-piece but not yet a bikini, and walking
an empty beach in late afternoon,
tossing a chunk of driftwood to her dog,
big and gray, who galumphs back each time,
clumps of wet sand flying, the dog soaked,
dripping, sometimes dragging a tangle
of dark green kelp he drops at her feet,
the stick forgotten, and she laughs
at the sight of him, and this goes on
until they both tire and she finds a place
among the dunes to lie down, the dog
panting at first beside her, then quieting,
the steady rhythm of the ocean calming
until the dark cloud of a man hovers
above them, and if not for the dog
the rest of this poem would consist
of details you would not want to read,
words like crush and straddle, split
and thrust, if I dared write about it,
and although later she finds sand
in the grooves of her sandals
and even after a shower more
between her toes and in her scalp,
thanks to her dog, now decades dead,
sand is still a word she can love.
One After Another
As if without a man, winter could take over.
But I loved winter, love winter still, so
what am I trying to say? Maybe it’s that
barrenness, those empty branches,
that too much sky. The old cherry tree
in front of my childhood home in New Jersey
did not yield cherries. That crape myrtle
in Arkansas that I planted with my ex
when our son was born, its flowers white,
though the nursery promised blue.
The pink blossoms of those hydrangeas
my father placed by the front steps
that changed color when he limed the soil.
One man after another, my twenties
defined by them, as if being alone meant
nothing could bloom. When you set out
certain trees—pears, apricots, plums—
you need at least two or they’ll flower
but won’t bear fruit. I learned this firsthand
from the orchard we cleared from the forest
where we lived, that husband and I.
He wasn’t my only. I married the first
because I feared my father’s insistence
that college was “a marriage market,”
and I was about to graduate. Fiasco
after fiasco. I should have waited.
But how do we know what we need
to know? And when to know it?
Last week the man I loved fifty years ago
wrote to me, then phoned. I don’t remember
why I left him. Or did he leave me?
In late winter I look for the purple tips
of crocuses that show up sometimes
where I did not plant them.
I thought of those wrapped, tart
candies years later, in a man’s bed,
when he wanted a grade. “You mean
like school?” I asked, incredulous.
He nodded, his mouth still glistening.
At the time, sex was a thing
I gave in to, still too shy to admit
innocence when a man urged me
into anything I’d not yet tried.
My grandparents kept them
on an end table in their living room
in a large, iridescent oyster shell
I’d brought from the Jersey shore
when I was ten. I spat out my first
after only a few seconds and was told
it took time, was an acquired taste
like wine or cigarettes. Cigarettes
would be never, and even wine
Before I answered the man,
I wiped my own wet mouth
on the bedsheet and took a gulp
of ice water from the glass
I’d asked for before we got started.
“B plus,” I said. But in my head,
lemon drops. I can’t remember
which came first, the sourness
or the regret.
So much silence. Like a certain kind
of weather. Yours, for example—
huge drifts that won’t melt. Your words
like daffodils crushed by late snowfall,
thick and heavy. That arresting quiet
I got used to. You, the winter of you,
more memory than flesh.
Mornings I lounge in my armchair
where sunlight—that rare visitor, rarer
than you—warms me. Still in my robe,
I read poems I’ve copied by hand
during your long absence, not that you
have anything to do with which poems
or whose. When I read one, my heart
feeds on something it did not know
it could know. Afterwards sometimes
I say, “This hurts,” meaning the way
a poem can undo me. Out loud as if
to the poet. As if out loud I can almost
touch it, hold it, keep it. But I can’t.
That’s the kind of pain my heart now
understands, the kind of paradoxical
beauty. “This hurts,” and then,
my phone makes its little
purring sound and something breaks
and breaks in. I’ve grown to like texts
for their brevity. Their no-nonsense
getting right to the point. We don’t even
sign our names. Must be my son, I think.
My phone, a pale blue rectangle lying
facedown and innocent on the wide armrest.
Your words instead of my son’s. All that snow.
The simultaneous dissonance of the warm sun
on my neck and shoulders. My heart.
“Thinking of you,” it says. Nothing more.
Everything that matters in what the words
almost say, but don’t. The words come close,
they almost break my heart, and then,
like beauty, they do.
I heard the crows before I saw them flash
past my window toward the giant elm
in front of my building. Then I heard
the traffic slow before it stopped
at the light. Ebb and flow, I thought, ebb
and flow. I take so much for granted,
like calling this building mine, this street
mine. I even think my elm, my crows.
Now I hear pellets of hail hammering
the lids of the trash bins in the alley,
and I know why the crows were
in such a hurry. They’re harbingers.
They know when to take cover, when
to fly. Listening to the hail reminds me
of my father, who taught me to imagine
the worst outcome and prepare for it.
If nothing bad happens, be happy.
If something does, well, at least
you know what to do. I tried living
like that, and it ruined me, never fully
savoring all the good I had, always
expecting the good would end.
I get up and stand at the window.
The hail has softened into snow,
each flake slow enough to be visible.
So much to do, but I’m still here
watching, as if nothing else matters
(and does it?), each beautiful flake
like a kept promise I didn’t believe
would be kept. Snow promises nothing.
Therefore, nothing to expect. But nothing
to fear either. Already it has begun
to calm the afternoon. When it thickens,
snow brings silence, its whiteness
covering every mistake. Even
the divorce now seems a small thing,
layers of snow between me and that
other me. Everything quiet, even there.
I’m clean again, we’re all clean,
and I’m standing at my window
on a suddenly wintery late
November afternoon in silence,
looking through it. So much snow,
I hear only the tinnitus I’ve gotten
used to, another kind of snow.
Real snow is coming down
faster now, the flakes smaller,
and they’re sticking. I’ve got
that starting-over feeling you get
the night before school begins.
And the cars are moving again,
but very slowly. We’re not used to
driving in snow here. The tops
of the cars are covered with wigs
of snow, powdered wigs like
courtroom barristers in British films.
Car after car, they’ve got me
smiling, giggling—I’m laughing
out loud. I’m laughing the way
the elm must be laughing, all those
crows tickling its branches.
Maybe the crows are laughing, too—
I can’t see them through all this snow.
Maybe they’re wearing snow caps
and epaulettes of snow. Maybe
they’ll stay a while longer,
my crows, huddled together
in my tree. Ebb and flow. Ebb
and flow. This snow so beautiful,
I have nowhere to go.
ANDREA HOLLANDER’s sixth full-length poetry collection, And Now, Nowhere But Here, is forthcoming from Terrapin Books. Her work has been featured in such places as Poetry, The Georgia Review, FIELD, and The New York Times Magazine, as well as numerous anthologies and textbooks. Her many honors include two Pushcart Prizes (poetry and literary nonfiction) and two poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.