THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


Two Poems

by Tabitha Payne

published October 25, 2019


When I left you in the lovely dark, you held up the morning in your hands

Sometimes when we sleep together I wake up sweating.

Even in the winter.

Your body,

which has always run warm,

has that effect on me.

The sweat pools around the inside of my legs,

sleeping against the skin at the middle of you;

between my breasts,

stamping obscurities on the center of my tank tops;

& on my cheeks,

sticking to your naked chest.

Usually I am waking up from a dream.

I dream you love me,

or I dream you’ve left me,

or I dream you’ve figured me out as that weak,

beating thing I fear myself to be,

& suddenly

I am lucid,

salty & pressed up against you,

& I remember all that we are & all that

we aren’t & every time it is somehow comforting,

even strange,

usually sad,

but always breathy,

the solidness of you,

the sound of your short, urgent breaths

which I worry should draw longer,

the sometimes snores,

the purrs & snags

of grinding your teeth

in the vestibule of night.

 

When I left you in the lovely dark, the college was slowly shutting its doors.

The snow melted

& froze into ice sheets

slippery & sticking to the asphalt.

I wept hot, flat tears that fell onto my lap,

& you were mostly sleeping,

your heavy arms

wrapped around the middle of me,

your breaths

humming something lovely in the key of A minor.

I said,

this is sad.

You said,

it is sad,

although

I don’t know if you’ll remember that now,

because you were mostly sleeping.

I looked at you,

already weeks in the future,

already dry & yearning for the salt-thickness of you,

already acquainted with the ghostliness of being gone,

which arrives most swiftly after the goodbye

but congeals & pulls more wholly

outward from beneath the skin

over time.

All this,

& you were mostly sleeping, & somehow

holding up the morning with your hands.

It was five a.m.

& silent,

the darkness generous

& weighing like a blanket,

& I was already

late for my flight.

You wanted to drive me to the airport,

& I wanted you to,

but insisted anyway on calling a car.

I wanted you to sleep enough.

Forgive me.

Insomnia held you for days

only to drop you into a well

so complete

& exclusive,

I could only admire it from where I was waking,

& now we were perhaps not friends

but intimate opponents

wary & respectful of each other’s abilities.

 

What was it you said once?

We were falling asleep,

we were falling in love,

& I said

I’m fighting sleep

because I don’t want this moment to end?

You said,

maybe this moment is so lovely,

sleep wants it for herself?

 

You would go on to forget you said that.

I learned this one of those later times when I was drifting

off & you were lying

awake,

perusing the painted-over plastic stars on my ceiling.

(But the darkness had come

for you

by then.)

(Sleep

had taken all

the moments

for herself.)

(We heard her shy footsteps.)

(& still

we leaned

into

the lovely dark.)

        

All I can do now is rewrite this poem.

All I could do then was kiss you on the forehead.

You smiled,

a small one,

just as much as sleep let.

As I whisked away into the car.

As I opened teary making small talk with the driver.

As I watched the credits of the city roll past.

Behind & behind me were the ghostly

houses & brackish rivers

& little cars that couldn’t keep up.

        

All I can do now is rewrite this poem.

All I could do then was kiss you on the forehead.

You smiled,

a small one,

just as much as sleep let.

As I whisked away into the car.

As I opened teary making small talk with the driver.

As I watched the credits of the city roll past.

Behind & behind me were the ghostly

houses & brackish rivers

& little cars that couldn’t keep up.

 

Heavenly body (i wonder how wonderful it must have felt for God, to have been made known)

can you imagine?

back in that time

when we were just graduating

from our well-worn words for things

& onto words for ideas,

like spirits,

like death,

like bodies?

all those thousands of years ago,

your great grandmother

to the nth power

laying her tired

to sleep beneath a heavy blanket of stars.

 

you know,

that heavenly body.

silent, & stirring.

 

of course

she believed in God.

 

maybe not the God in your head,

or the God of mine,

but, my God,

how couldn’t she?

each night

her smallish body was made

to face that frightening, insistent

spaciousness,

constant, & turning, wholly

unlike &

unbelonging to this world of decaying things.

& somehow shining,

proudly,

without explanation.

& so

demanding it.

 

really,

what was she to do but happen

upon God?

a sky that grand,

& brain that big,

with that bluish terror sitting

at the base of her tailbone?

as if put there to remind her

she was only passing through.

& with that tinier body, too,

clutched to her chest,

coughing and wailing in the darkness—

& who-knows-what

hungry, invisible things were hearing it.

 

that body above

could just as well have meant the end

of her.

 

thank God,

she soothed that impatient,

noisy child, pawing at her breast.

thank God,

she looked up

at that pregnant, terrible stillness

& said this will be my friend.