Eight Letters between Old LoversFirst Letter

Dear John:

Today is Tuesday, a day of the week, and I’ve gone

to work, to lunch, to work, to shop,

back home to eat and, now, to bed—where I don’t quite drop

off to sleep but, instead, write you (dear John)

because you’re the one who might understand I haven’t gone

anywhere.

The high school looks like a factory.

The factory looks like an art museum.

The art museum has that plate glass

they use in all the skyscrapers:

tinted, one way.

So, instead of seeing what’s inside,

you only get what the surface reflects.

As if we were all light and play and sex,

John. As if we were all skin.

It makes me think I need to begin

again, somewhere.

Although I know that isn’t right.

I had this dream the other night.

About CONTEMPORARY INTERIORS,

the bed-and-sofa

place where I work? This customer walks in and asks

what we have, and, without even thinking, I drop

my skirt, unbutton my blouse, take off a

layer at a time until, at last,

I stand there, naked. And then he says, “What else you got?”

But that’s a dream, not

really why I’m writing.

I guess I feel badly,

John, about what happened between us. The fighting,

and the lying to each other, and the hurt. You used to say

that once two people have been lovers,

they can’t be friends,

but … I’ve got a new guy—Jimmy,

a sweet man—and last night, in his arms, I called your name,

instead.

There. That’s said.

What I mean is: you could be him.

All these people, all this experience,

and it ends up the same.

A city made to make us forget.

As if we were created, not equal,

but identical. Interchangeable.

My question to you, as an architect

(Or, as an old lover. Or, as

a new friend.) is what are we trying so hard to hide?

I’ve gone from home to work to Sorry. Jimmy just rolled over.

I think I’d better stop.

FRANKIE

 

Second Letter

Dear Frankie:

I’m at work, so this will be brief.

I think it’s a privileged, selfish, comforting belief

to say everything’s identical.

I don’t know what city you live in,

but turn a corner in mine, and everything’s different.

Sure, there’s the perfect plate-glass face.

But step behind, and you find fallen ceilings, walls like paste,

the world without a front. Whatever you meant

by saying you’ve never been

anywhere, you should go.

It isn’t interchangeable.

It isn’t a dream. It isn’t either “light” or “sex.”

There are actual beams you can touch.

My work is to try to figure out where it connects,

and why it breaks, and how history

gets turned into dust.

As to the intimate details of your lust-

life, spare me. I’d actually

rather you didn’t write. Maybe that shows I still care too much,

but, whether you’re selling sofas or being an architect,

it seems to me there’s a real need to forget.

So, I won’t go on.

Sincerely,

JOHN

 

Third Letter

Dear John:

All I have to say is, Jesus,

we sure do get serious

—and fast!

I’ve been re-reading your last

on a bench in the park,

and I guess we aren’t going to be friends,

huh? Well, how about one

last note, then, before it ends.

Yesterday, around dark,

I broke my regular route back and forth from work

to go where you sent me. I followed your letter

like a map.

Back streets. The smell of cats

and piss and people. A sweater

ripped and rotting on a banister post.

Streets scribbled with ghost

anger. “FUCK YOU” “EAT SHIT”

You’re right. It didn’t feel like anywhere

I’d been before. At first, I just wanted to tear

it down, to start over. And then I noticed it

already had been. Whole blocks laid to waste.

And without a clue what to put in their place,

right, John? Without a clue.

I guess I should thank you.

For sending me. I don’t mean to be critical,

but you should try it sometime in a woman’s body.

Stand in front of the storefront glass

and have a guy come up in cracked reflection

and whisper how he wants you to be

his “finger food,” his “piece of ass.”

Maybe it’s not all identical,

but it sure feels like one architecture:

this just the dark side of the same question.

From where I sit today, I can see ducks begging for feed,

red tulips in the sun. I think people need

more of this, John: more birds, more bloom.

Otherwise, we assume

everything’s man-made:

the city as self-fulfilling prophecy, played

out in concrete the way it was laid out on paper.

I won’t write again. But I did want you to know

that I never meant any hurt.

Are you well, John?

Happy?

Seeing anyone?

I hope so.

FRANKIE

 

Fourth Letter

      It’s late, Frankie.

And I’m drunk. And the theory

of this and that goes wet

with wanting. Do your legs still rise in two swept

spires and join?

If you really want to talk about this

—about us—then let’s talk about the times we came together: met

and fused and disappeared. How, at the very center,

we’d pass through and forget

who was female, who male, where the kiss

left off and the lips began. One long, sweet spin

and no sign of a designer.

“Someone who gets paid in the coin

of the realm to make his mistakes

in public.”

That’s the definition of an architect.

Did I ever tell you about Frank Lloyd Wright?

How he built this hotel in Tokyo that gave

in the wind: actually swayed? He called it a “natural building,”

and people made fun, but when the earthquake

came and the city collapsed (the rest was designed to resist, unyielding),

his accepted. His was saved.

It wasn’t just ink on paper; it was touch.

I’ve already told you, Frankie, that I care too much.

But am I seeing anybody?

Absolutely. Every night.

I see people who’ll never have what they need

because some fuck with a t-square cut their neighborhood

in half. I see rooms whose dimensions are decided by greed.

I see all that we should

change and can’t (or think we can’t) and, so, goes on and on.

Here’s my dark question this drunk night:

Will you write? Will you forget what I said and write?

Will you, Frankie, forgive me?

JOHN

 

Fifth Letter

Dear John:

I’m having a little trouble in

a lot of ways knowing where to begin.

There were three of them and one

of me, and it was like they were furious about something,

something I’d done. And you know what I’ve done, John?

Nothing.

The room they took me to was the kind

you wrote about: ceiling

gone, walls down. So, when the first one got on top,

I could see right through to sky.

Blue sky. Like nothing would ever stop.

Here’s how people react:

· First, they ask if I hurt.

· Then, they ask why

I was there, as if what I’d done

wrong was to walk in the city where I live.

· Then, at the end, they say, “Well, life goes on.”

Don’t you love it?

I want to say, “Prove it.”

I want to say, “How much do you have to forget, in order to forgive?”

I’m okay, John. I have this one scratch

the whole sideways length of my back.

But when I catch myself in the glass,

it’s like Braille—and the world gone blind.

It’s this feeling

that my body is signaling people: my ass,

my tits. As if the shape of my lips begged for a kiss.

As if all the peep shows and jerk books

were based on this,

on me. Never mind how we think about each other and all that worn-

out talk. It’s the basic form—the way we fit—that needs to be torn

down. When? And how? And by whom, John?

I’m not writing to ask for help.

It’s just that I am not—and will not be—myself.

 

Sixth Letter

Dear Frankie:

Just a quick note to say

I’m glad we actually spoke, if only briefly.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe there is a way

for old lovers to be friends.

I’ve been doing a lot of walking, lately.

Down by the docks where the ships used to be,

in the allies behind the stores.

Places only truckers and whores

ever see. What doesn’t count, what isn’t pretty.

And I end up on my knees

before it! In the dead-rot and disease,

I seize on this or that scrap of sensation

because … because I need a reason,

Frankie.

Because I need to believe it began

somewhere in order to believe it can end.

Just like a man,

huh? I need to lay the blame.

I don’t mean to say that “Life goes on.”

Over the porn

shops, in the places no

one cares about, lovers beat each other; dead kids are born.

But in the morning, when I stumble into work,

I look at my co-workers (who look like me),

and I think, “Those people are the experts. These people don’t know.

If we lived in a true democracy ….”

I’m ashamed

to go on. Especially to you, especially after this.

I know it sounds bad,

but I wish

I had

your hurt.

JOHN

 

Seventh Letter

Dear John:

I think you’re brave

to stay, to fight. But I don’t want to save

anyone, even myself,

ever again.

I’ve decided to go to the country. Alone.

I know it’s not Jimmy’s fault and so on,

and I certainly don’t blame you or him,

but there’s something not good

about my eyes in the mirror. Things don’t shut off, if you understand, like they should.

I guess I could go on living here.

But deep down, I know it can’t help.

Once you find fear,

fear stays. In the concrete, in the cracked

glass. I’ve always believed in signs,

and now mine’s

this sideways scar across my back.

You want to know where it began?

Me, too. You don’t have to be a man

to want that. What I’ve been doing is re-reading Genesis

—not because it makes any sense out of this,

but …. “Ye shall not eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden.”

Or what? Do you remember? Or ye shall be wise.

Yesterday, around 11 a.m.,

I went downtown to the mall.

I don’t need to describe it to you because

these really are all

alike:

in-door fountains, all-year ferns. There was

a lady in a bright red suit handing out plastic spikes

of deodorant. For free.

No dirt, no drugs, no distraction.

And it scared me, John. The whole fucking nation

does. So, I’m gone.

FRANKIE

 

Eighth Letter

Dearest Frankie:

Weren’t you the one who said we can’t begin

again?

If you leave, the lies lives on, unchallenged.

I work with them;

I know.

They bet on the fact that we’re all too damaged

to fight.

And if you run to the country

(which is what?) and it cures

(which it can’t), then

where would you be?

And what’s the bible for, Frankie? How can that help?

Late last night, I found myself

walking home through the park,

and, in the shadows

by the lake (which is as close as the city comes to dark),

I saw a couple making love.

It wasn’t Eden, but it wasn’t rape. It was a man

and a woman. And if there’s a god above,

doesn’t he see this as an act of almost pure bravery,

of prayer?

People making shelter out of thin air.

What we made, Frankie, was the same.

And if that’s over—if that’s gone up in some blinding light—

well, I need to stay here. In the city.

In the hollow of what used to be.

Because … because what else do we have to build on?

And because, if I stay, at least I remain

yours

JOHN

 

Originally published as a serial between April 9, 2001, and July 16, 2001.

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