Have you ever shared a standard-size mattress? They used to be, well, standard. In this poem, we’d just moved from our almost-cottage-sized house on the Elk River in Maryland back across the state line into Delaware. Bigger house, bigger bed. Sinfully big.
Buying The King-Sized Bed
I am already thinking of rolling around that expanse,
tossing a leg without entangling. The way I am,
though, I see all the possibilities for loss. I see us
pillowed and billowed, supported in exactly the right
hollows by ergonomically designed, pocketed coils,
while beneath it all, the pea under a royal height,
the oppressed, the downsmashed, sleep in despoiled
cardboard boxes, or three on one frayed blanket.
Think of us, spread out, tongues on the rampage,
marking where we’ll kiss. Oh wild God, how can
you permit this excess? How could any of us gauge
the exact distance at which people turn strangers
to each other? In our double bed—called double,
but we have been bumper-cars and cliff hangers
on it for years, our shorter ancestors troubling
us still—I can’t even raise my knee
without poking my dear love in the groin.
We have been close, we have understood each
other the way people in tight houses start growing
into each other, at a molecular level, absorbing
each other’s pheromones. Yelling and slamming doors,
too, or else they are lost inside each other! They would
have grand houses, if they could. They would forge
on like jet-skis through the foyer and out to the good
sea. They would send a wire to say, “I still
love you.” The sweet old world is longing to be
loose and light. All night long it stares up at the chilled
stars. This is a sticky business, finding the peak
distance for love, knowing our bodies will be nothing,
someday, wanting to hear them make their delicious,
reassuring sounds, bobbing against each other.
This is Installment III of my own personal memory lane, leading up to the launch of The Wood Are On Fire: New & Selected Poems on March 16th. The poem is from Breathing In, Breathing Out, Anhinga Press, 2002. The manuscript won the first Anhinga Prize, selected by Philip Levine.
Actually, my third book, shortly before this one, is The Devil’s Child, from Carnegie Mellon University Press, maybe my best book and the only one (so far) reviewed in Poetry magazine. I could talk about this book (and have) all day, but Ted Kooser and I decided it would be best to leave poems from this book out of the New & Selected. The Devil’s Child is a continuous narrative and the poems are so dark, the tone would have been too radical a shift.
I’m on the cover of Breathing In, Breathing Out. A photographer friend, Beth Trepper, spent hours taking photos of me, most of them crazy-glamorous, with scarves and drapes. The one we chose is pretty simple, and blurred. It was great to work with a small press like Anhinga. I had input into every detail. The editor/designer, Lynne Knight, was incredibly helpful. I changed the titles (and a few lines) of several poems at her suggestion. I fought her for a while, but then realized she was right.
Can y0u tell these are my reading copies? Pretty beat up. Ah, you are old, Father William. [If you need a footnote, you’re too young.]