It’s not normal to cry over an egg salad sandwich.
I know this.
Three days ago, he called to say he was clean
but hadn’t eaten in nine days.
I’d heard from him maybe five times
in the last quarter century, but I knew exactly who he was.
You don’t forget a thing like that.
The day I met him, I was a screaming fucking maniac
throwing all of my douchebag boyfriend’s clothes down
steep stairs into the street.
I was 17 and hadn’t been home in months.
He parked that piece of shit motorcycle, and without a word
helped me pitch a six-drawer dresser to splinter in the green grass.
Guns and Roses raged from the neighbor’s porch
and suddenly it was all rain in my face,
wind in my hair,
strobe lights down there.
Come on, baby. Give it to me good.
Cocaine, fat joints.
Fists and I’m so sorry.
You know I love you, but we should
put some ice on that.
It’s just you and me –
except when it’s me and her, me and whiskey, me out all night.
Bruises, band aids, motorcycles sliding on asphalt.
World by the balls and small, small town.
Eight ball, stripper pole, black lights,
shots of Jaeger before each shift.
All I wanted was for him to love me.
And love me he did.
Some people love with fists and fat lips.
Then it was crack cocaine, sharp fear in the night,
that glass table in so many knives on the floor.
I remember watching his tattoo as he cracked
five eggs, each shell shattering itself again and again
on the tips of his fingers.
He wasn’t wearing a shirt.
I had red lipstick and cleavage,
both a little too much in the bright light of the kitchen.
We were still drunk
with the power of youth,
didn’t even suspect the devastation to come.
No way to see
the son, the daughter, waiting quietly beneath his skin.
Only his stark beauty and the fact
that I’d never before eaten egg salad, which explains
why we two left the party, boiled water
in a stranger’s pot, and spent the next five years
loving each other almost to pieces.
Now those kids are older than he was then.
Now it’s been 23 years homeless.
I can’t stop, baby please help me.
Snow, ice, batteries
from dumpsters, cardboard signs, dirty,
Old man face, brain a cluster fuck of need and regret.
Four fingers, two toes gone.
Staph infection and no ride to the hospital.
The stench of bridges burning to the ground.
So yeah, I sent him money the other day
because nine days is a long time and your first love
is an addiction worse than any drug.
When the hospital called
to say he’d stroked out, that he sure as fuck
wasn’t clean, never had been.
That those two kids, grown now, are next of kin,
and could I ring them up on the phone?
I happened to be eating an egg salad sandwich
and I couldn’t help but cry over those five dead chickens.
There’s something about a dirt road
that rises in your chest like an incantation.
The seconds throb in your throat,
patient and panting, keeping time with the ocotillo
rising and falling to the left
and the right in the evening sun.
I become the howl of dust rising in fire light,
the stomp, stomp, stomp of bare feet
and molten lava stars dripping from the sky.
I’m trying to say that I meant what I said
when I shouted drunken poetry into the night.
The echo returned to me wild,
threaded with hope, sounding exactly
The way words can never adequately convey the miracles one stumbles across and the way they can so easily be taken away.
Remember how there was so little to hold onto in the early days but so much concealed inside and underneath that I couldn’t see? The small, halfhearted start then the division, multiplication, and the branching away. Recall that I had good intentions but forgot to water things sometimes. Relationships and tomatoes suffer the same from that.
The forgiving nature of the whole thing. That one way or another, it all works out. So many soft surprises coming slowly, slowly then rushing in all at once, the colors of jade, garnet, and coral, spread with sunshine butter and the feathers of birds.
Never enough, and I do think tomatoes can be called that, grew deep roots, reached toward the sky, and woke up one October morning heavy with fruit hidden in all the secret and dark places. It takes some work to find them.
On certain days, when the light shifts and the harvest is halfway gone, the richness and solitude sweep themselves together and place an offering at my feet. Sunshine warms my hair, which is wild and sprawling like the hedges that these tomatoes have become, and it is beautiful. I harvest with only birdsong and leaf rustle for company and know the meaning of plenty.