What Is There to Be Learned

Emari DiGiorgio

                   after Larry Levis


Whenever I listen to Billie Holiday, I am reminded

of that Levis poem and how we sat in the back room

of the library, just out of reach, box fan blowing the heat

between us. I’d like to believe that I’d know what to save

in a fire, children first, the cat. I might want my mother’s

rings, my good pillow. It’s hard to tell what I keep closest

to my heart and how it gets there. That bright night

I drove to your end of the island, nerves sparking, afraid

my car would die on your block or be broken into. Maybe

it was a way to convince myself it would be only a kiss,

first on the street, and then, on the edge of your bed, where

I held your hand, then ran fingers through your hair

for hours. It’s not appropriate to imagine a house in flames

when others have stood in the street and watched decades

collapse. But I have always imagined the end of days.

If I am honest with myself I love the way a substation

sounds like the ocean. Today the clouds look like x-rays

of a fractured skull and I understand wanting to stand

in the middle of the track, to jump from the trestle.

Like Levis and Holiday, like you, I’d like to make some

dignity out of loneliness, and if I keep using the conditional

there’s a chance it will happen, right? In my throat, barbed

wire coils, and meaning drags itself over, pant leg caught,

blood at its heels. I have not become whoever I will become,

but this is who I am now, and it’s all I can offer. What I’m trying to say

is in July when the irrigation guns grew

hot enough to seal an eye shut, I was most afraid of myself.

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