This week the birds began to fluff
their feathers; now beaked bulbs
line our balcony,
noisy brown holiday lights.
Inside, on page 143, another Romanov
is snuffed out and an English ambassador,
in a letter to his mum, ridicules the barbarian prince.
(Watch for a bottle of vodka by the next post, he tells her.)
I stare at four boxed toasters in a boxcar row
on the living room floor: GE, Black & Decker,
Avant Elite, Kenmore. We’ll exchange three
for board games or a Swiffer. The Kenmore
has bagel-wide slots.
The atomic clock on a shelf above
has lost its signal again, time and date.
It shows a seven o’clock
in four years, when we’ll have a home with a garden and time
to sit in our backyard swing.
My mother has made her home
this year in Haifa. She sends us handmade jewelry,
pictures of the new boyfriend and his son
in militia garb, letters streaked with good advice
(Baking soda and peroxide will take some yellow
from your teeth.) and arrogant apologies:
for the rarity of phone calls (she’s just so busy
with Chaim and their baby Pekinese),
for the wedding she just couldn’t make.
I take the shrink wrap off Yahtzee, set up the game
in the living room floor while my husband
heats apple cider and Red Hots on the stove. We plan: lime
and avocado trees, a small spice garden.
The birds peck and chase each other—the Romanov spirit
alive and thriving. We’ll keep the Kenmore.
It was a picture of me I found,
one of thousands in our years together
taken on some filthy side street—
this one in Seoul or Daegu,
clear from the Hangul on the sign behind me
above a green pharmacy cross
and the young man,
master of the inscrutable Korean stare.
He’s watching me. He sees the curve of my neck,
my head turned to where he can barely not see
my face. I think I am beautiful from that angle.
I check to make sure.
I don’t remember him. Possibly, I never noticed him
at all, but here he is, years ago, watching me and I
can’t tell what he’s thinking.
I don’t remember the day or what I thought
when the flash went off. I don’t remember
ever owning that shirt or smiling with such exasperation.
It might be a picture of someone else
except that my face is behind the expression,
my foreigner eyes and the scar beside my mouth
that you never asked about.
The young man isn’t looking into the camera,
as others on the street do
with their God-these-tourists faces.
They don’t know that we lived there,
worked there, searched twenty stores
for sliced cheese there. They don’t
know that we loved the city, and that I cried
more when I left than when I left the States,
that I was what I had always felt anyway:
You would laugh if you saw my attempts
to make bibimbap in my American kitchen. The neighbors
don’t talk to me during the fall,
and when I say hello, they glare obvious American glares.
They aren’t impressed by my beautiful angle.
He sheds his clothes birthing-style, stripping and thrusting
shirt, pants, shorts into an oblong nest beside the hamper,
then falls on the bed. All this world of progress,
and beds still creak like straining bridges,
over hills and dry riverbeds.
It’s not boredom in his expression as her clothes
pile across the arm of the feather-print chair, but it’s not
the interest of their first night, too hurried to hear
the springs, just thirst and mildly awkward satiation. After,
he saw the unevenness of her breasts. Early love is its own season.
Then the scraping together of bodies, the human smells,
(the staff meeting, the weekend chores) the rattle of the bedside table,
the endless endless creaking, rough against smooth against soft
against heat. A trace of voice in the sigh she knows
like the sound of cars on the street, like the tick
before the alarm clock buzzes, like bread bouncing from the toaster’s womb.
That is when he looks at her
as though she exists as much as his recliner, his PC games, his grill,
his favorite pair of winter socks. That is when she is nineteen
and he is too nervous to give her the lilies in his hand. That
is when she doesn’t care that he lets the laundry and dishes and bills
pile up. She is his and in him and of him.
He will roll away before she’s ready. He’ll pull on shorts,
get a soda from the fridge’s bottom shelf. He won’t notice
that she hasn’t moved, that she is lying still enough
to silence the springs, imagining them boring up
through the Egyptian cotton sheets.
She lies still, feeling the heat of him evaporate from her skin.
“I recently received my M.A. in English Literature, and I have one previous publication in a paying market. My short story, “Karma,” was published in Sam’s Dot Publishing’s Cover of Darkness in April 2007.” E-mail: chazley.dotson[at]yahoo.com