After We Left the Night Bus
A beautiful blue-eyed boy swiped a pub glass for me
as we walked home. If we’d been stateside in June’s four a.m.,
we’d have walked in deep, dark midnight light, but so much
farther north, where the night buses we’ve all seen in pictures
run overgrown teenagers & middle-aged cleaners
home in rounds of movement slowed with drink or work,
dawn was already starting to break, creeping
up over Wimbledon Hill as if we were responsible
adults, not walking home from SW19’s sole night bus stop,
but headed off to work our early shifts at desks or shops.
In that latitude’s half-light, grey-blue & washed out
like my childhood’s late-night television shows,
we paused at a pub’s red door, there at the bottom of the hill,
our lengthy walk lying ahead along that empty suburban lane,
night’s last dark just reflected in the door’s small panes
& their leaded glazes. Did I, too nervous to touch him,
say how charming the scattered pint glasses looked, how
back home we didn’t have those abandoned selves
strewn about, still nursing their dregs—how we
weren’t allowed to finish a drink after hours, legs
outstretched into a dispersing crowd? No lingering
over a last half, no glasses set on sills or on a bar’s stone
threshold until barkeeps opened their doors next morning
& gathered them up. I must have said something, but
so many days intervene—half my life again—& I’m not
sure which memories to believe. A car swanned by, wearily,
in the left-hand lane. Certainly by then I knew to look both ways,
but backwards. I’d remember if he’d taken my hand, the weight
of it, where we said goodbye. The last gasp of night turning
blue behind the houses. Splash of a glass, emptying. What I learned.
Flying Backwards: A Shot-By-Shot Guide
Montage of molded plastic shelves—what we could afford—
white as milk, that she would barely look at & not condescend
to touch. Kitchen table, cigarette smoke, Roger Daltrey’s voice
funneled through a transistor’s rattle as the dial vibrates
between static & tune. Ms. Pac-Man & a pack of menthol Kools,
a navy-blue polo shirt, a punch-button radio in a 1979 Pontiac.
My secret wish from the year I turned thirteen (too old
for unicorns, but she kept my secret) & she was not yet moving out.
When her first book lived half in her typewriter, carbon-copied, & half in manila envelopes
piled in our hall, waiting to be mailed. Her closet full of aqua,
pink, & cashmere black. A writer’s overstuffed ashtrays, stamps & envelopes.
Her separate line, & the night she told a salesman calling the house
for a second time, “I’m bald, too”—too long ago to foreshadow anything.
Her crack was a joke, like when she & my mother named each other
Felice out at a bar, trading imaginary phone numbers for drinks or a cigarette,
or a story that would garner a good laugh. If I had a sister, I’d want that, too.
Her breasts, her lungs, everything worked then, because they were young,
& I was younger, & we sang along to Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty, & Prince’s
1999 was just another party, as dusky as every summer night that year,
with stars like lit cigarettes shining out from the deck chairs where they sat,
having survived another bout of twilight & its slow descent into darker
honeysuckle-scented haze, & the mail waited to go out again the next day
while I lingered in the backyard below the deck’s low rail, hiding
from lightning bugs & our backyard’s drunken, dazzled moths.
I listened to a hum of voices I believed I’d always imagined
I’d grow up into. These nights, cigarettes, the concatenation of dawns
& noons & other, harder dusks between where the earth spun then & now
elongate, & contract. That summer, as we sprawled, escaping from humidity
into the cinema’s air-conditioned sanctuary, we imagined ourselves
suspended in Superman’s whirl of flight. His dizzied speed holds nothing
on the speed at which time has since begun to pass.
My stretched-out memory’s Doppler shift obscures the old, falling sun
though I try to bring it to mind. Any color it bore fades
behind our ragged & looming cherry trees, browning in their death throes.
Twenty years & two blocks away, I can’t recall
if she drank bourbon then or if that came later, in Indiana or Oxford,
or maybe not until closer to the end. Even if I had these days again
—hardwired handset against my ear, words & gestures clichéd
as a dying heroine’s final, spinning aerial shot—it’s too late to change
into my own red cape, to leap into the air. Too late to take off,
to fly to her—to say goodbye—to follow that blockbuster’s
technicolored instruction. No matter how fast I force my pulse to race,
it’s too late for me to get there, even flying backwards around the world.
The day unfolds like a photograph of Janis Joplin,
poignant & shattered at the edges, a shadow
fractured under fast-moving clouds.
February surprises me with a Lenten rose.
It’s too early to watch for blooms,
too gray to thrill to the names I learned
in Latin, too gray to trip them off my tongue:
Helleborus orientalis, Helleborus atrorubens—
which one is the color of the bruises I would get
if I lived in Cinderella’s castle, bumping into
all those banisters, my hips blooming
like a gardener’s hands, inverted & weeping?
& I, even in that celluloid castle, a pilgrim
once again, skating on my hosts’ marble floors,
always kneeling my way through Rome.
About the author
Emma travels whenever she can find a good excuse. She has tagged along on trips to Great Britain and Hawaii, and she admires a…Read the full bio
Issue 19 · December 2013
Table of contents
- From the editors
- Postcard Prose