By Jeffrey Schultz
And then, embarrassed at the conversation’s sudden death,
all eyes at once on him, and daunted, honestly, at the prospect
Of going on, of cataloging, in detail, the slow distension
each child’s belly must endure, and each piece of flesh
Cauterized without knowing it would be, without any time
to prepare before the glowing hot shrapnel enters it
And passes through-not, certainly, that preparation
would help in any way-he raises his glass back to his lips
And listens to the others go on as before, listens as the bar noise swells,
exile’s new fashion for the season, softer, sure, but harder perhaps,
From which to find one’s way back. Even at the get-go, it was stupid,
the idea he could make such a list, and that, once made,
It might be useful for some thing or other. No. It’s idle chit-
chat, gossip: … said what … … always has been a bitch …,
And the jukebox’s brief pause between two more three minute
spins through nothingness. We join in. We sit out,
But, end of the night, there’s hardly any difference as he scuffs
up the leaf-scent on the cold walk home, the sky above crisp
With autumn’s first deep chill. The last buses have run their routes,
have ferried, in their blue fluorescence, the faces of the tired
To wherever it is the tired disappear. The streets are deserted.
My friends, please forgive my prying, but what have you all
Been up to lately? I feel like we never talk anymore,
like keeping in touch, for no good reason, has become
Impossible. Instead, long walks, bus rides, the self check-out lane’s
smudged touch screen and hideously inoffensive thank you
For shopping, too many drinks each evening, and these half-read
stacks of books’ stillness as I fall asleep in spite of some
Sitcom’s laugh-track, complication, one-liner, and cheap resolution.
Tell me, have you been well? Where you are, wherever that is,
What colors, what scents does this time of year bring?
Under skies like this, we think distances might dissolve; I almost see
You there, your eyes barely able to track the words any longer, your hands
cold, always, for some reason, cold. It would have been nice
If we’d lived closer together. We could see each other sometimes,
not have to worry over someone to feed the cat, talk to him a little,
Water the plants, keep an eye on all of these things. But that’s it.
I can only imagine, and no better than I can imagine anything,
Which means, as I sit here looking out of your skull,
it’s the frames of my own glasses at the blurred edge
Of our vision. My double, or yours? If yours, I like your taste
in whiskey. Friend, once I dreamed of a beautiful country,
And both of us were there, and everyone we do and do not know,
and I tell you, I miss that place. I wish I could say just
Where we should go. O, my country, my lost and human country.
Jeffrey Schultz’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Great River Review, Northwest Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Willow Springs and elsewhere. He teaches at Pepperdine University. In March, he was one of four winners of the 92nd Street Y “Discovery” Poetry Contest, which since 1951 has recognized the achievements of poets who have not yet published a first book. This year’s winners were chosen from among 900 poets. More information can be found at the 92nd Street Y.