Exile

Who knows how to begin?
It is July and I am alone in a rental car
in Providence, a city I once loved. 
I could say the streets thrum
with the green heat of summer.
Or: the businessmen look gentle in their damp suits.
I could say I am old enough
that my past seems a life someone else led.

But that wouldn’t be true.
If it were, the ochre house shedding its paint
wouldn’t have stopped me the way it did.
This is the part of the tour
I usually omit.  Not redbrick nostalgia, sun-drunk
days on a college green,
but the house I shared with the wrong man.
A wreck of a place. 

Who knows if the kitchen’s clotted
with the same blueblack linoleum,
if grime still whitens the windows’ eyes.
We did what we could: hefted
an industrial steamer, scraped at the walls
until someone’s faded attempts at cheer
rained down on our heads in soggy strips.
We only deepened the dark.

Sun glints at the windshield, burns a shape
into my vision, a figure
on the narrow porch. Him
with the muscled jaw, the jutting brow?  I blink
hard. No; it’s the girl. That bowed head,
face draped with stringy hair—
my chest heaves open
and rings like a struck bell.

Listen. I lean to her. It’s time you quit
this place, the concrete yard
ringed with weeds where you go to smoke
when he screams. The refrigerator door
you slammed so hard the eggs shattered,
leaking their colorless blood.  You must
understand; he would have done battle
with anyone.  But she has been exiled

and the way down the steps is slow.
In my offered hand, her palm is limp and dry.
She rides next to me, saying nothing
until I breathe her into my body.
                        I take her back
to California, not like the last time
when she watched me from a window
as I loaded the car.


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