Ordinary Heartbreak

Joan Aleshire

What we wouldn’t have given

for ordinary heartbreak …

                    N. Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope

She’s so arrogant, I put the book down at that,

one of the poets said, and the others agreed:

Nadezhda condescended, exaggerated,

while I sat confounded, who found

in Mandelstam’s defiance

my articles of faith, my way to live.

The others argued the primacy

of heartbreak against my attempts

to explain: Mandelstam’s earphones,

earphones, who turned me in? —

betrayal as common currency:

nights waiting without sleep

for fists at the door, thoughts

hunted down in a neighborhood

of executioners, crackling on the phone.

When my heart broke hard,

as if it had never been broken

before, what Nadezhda

meant by ordinary was this:

the friends unafraid to listen,

to ease my way; and in a town

of no secrets: the postal clerk

adding the extra postage

to my letter; the colleague

taking my library shift that day

without being asked, in dailiness

as we are privileged to know it:

the snowplow sweeping a surf

of snow before it first thing,

scattering saving grains of sand

like cinnamon in its wake.

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