It didn’t weep the way a willow should.
Planted all alone in the middle of the field
by the bachelor who sold our house to us,
shoulder height when our daughter was born,
it grew eight feet a year until it blocked
the view through the first-, then the second-
story windows, its straggly canopy obstructing
our sunrise and moonrise over Max Gray Road.
I gave it the evil eye, hoping lightning
would strike it, the way a bolt had split
the butternut by the barn. And if leaf blight
or crown gall or cankers didn’t kill it, then
I’d gladly pay someone to chop it down.
My daughter said no, she loved that tree,
and my husband agreed. One wet Sunday—
husband napping, daughter at a matinee
in town—a wind shear barreled up the hill
so loud I glanced up from my mystery
the moment the willow leaned, bowed,
and fell over flat on its back, roots and all,
splayed on the ground like Gulliver.
The house shook, just once.
Later, when the sun came out, neighbors
came to gawk; they chain-sawed thicker
branches, wrapped chains around the trunk,
their backhoe ripped out pieces of stump
and root as if extracting a rotten tooth.
I’m not sorry that tree is gone. No one
ever sat under it for shade or contemplation.
Yet spring after spring it reliably leafed out.
It was always the last to lose its leaves
in fall. It should have died a decade ago
for all the grief I gave it, my dirty looks
apparently the fuel on which it thrived.
It must have done its weeping in private.
But now I can see the slope of the hill.
Did my wishful thinking cast a spell?
I was the only one on earth who saw it fall.
Sleeping alone in my Madison Avenue
Upper East Side seventeen-by-seventeen
fourth-floor walkup one night thirty
years ago, I heard people arguing
through the plaster and brick wall dividing
my brownstone from the one next door.
I’d hardly given my neighbors a second thought
except those I’d occasionally see in the hall
retrieving mail, struggling up narrow stairs
with grocery bags, or leashing their dogs.
I used to amuse myself by matching up faces
with the names above the intercom buttons
in the vestibule downstairs, but I never
stopped for anything more than chitchat,
never thought about the people living
in the adjacent building until the night I hear
a woman crying loud enough to rouse me,
and a deeper voice, a man’s, whose words
I can’t make out but whose angry bellowing
bullies me awake. Perhaps they’re actors
rehearsing a play, or he’s her drama coach
and she’s practicing her lines from the scene
where the man and the woman fight.
I’m thinking I should dial 911 when—
through the white noise of my hissing radiator—
he shouts, “You’ve got to order your priorities!”
like a therapist on an emergency house call,
which works. She’s whimpering like a dog.
There follows a clearing of the moment’s
throat, a sponging of tears, a charged silence,
as if now they’re making love and all before
was foreplay. And I’m in bed with them.
How many times have I had to listen—
half attracted, half repelled—to strangers’ thumps
and moans in the hotel room next to mine?
Their dramas? And next morning share the same
elevator (too bright, too small) to the lobby.
I have nothing to be ashamed of. But I’m feeling
that same tongue-tied strangeness I used to feel
with a one-night stand the morning after.
My old boyfriend’s fortune cookie read,
Your love life is of interest only to yourself.
Not news to me. A famous writer
once showed me the fortune in his wallet—
You must curb your lust for revenge—
slapped over his dead mother’s face.
After finishing our Chinese meal
at that godforsaken mall,
eight of us crowded around the table,
the white tablecloth sopping up
islands of spilled soy sauce and beer,
the waiter brought tea and oranges
sliced into eighths and a plate of fortune cookies.
We played our after-dinner game—
each of us saying our line out loud,
the chorus adding its coda:
“You will meet hundreds of people...” “In bed.”
“Every man is a volume if you know how to read him...” “In bed.”
“You have unusual equipment for success...” “In bed.”
And those with more delicate sensibilities,
new to the group, blushed
and checked their wristwatches.
We divided up the bill, and split.
A few left their fortunes behind.
The rest slipped those scraps of hope or doom
into pockets and pocketbooks to digest later.
Maybe one or two of us got lucky that night
and had a long and happy life in bed.
On the ride home, I absent-mindedly
rolled my fortune into a tight coil,
the way you roll a joint, and dropped it
into my coat pocket,
and found it yesterday—
oh, how many years later—
caught between the stitches of the seam,
like one of those notes
wedged into a niche of the Wailing Wall
that someday God might read in bed
and change a life.
The first time I got my hands on her,
I took off all her clothes—to see
exactly where her voice came from.
I pulled the white plastic O-ring
knotted to the pull string in her back,
pulled it, gently, as far as it would go,
and Chatty Cathy threw her voice—
not from her closed pretty pink lips
but from the open speaker-grille in her chest.
Chatty Cathy was her own ventriloquist!
She said eighteen phrases at random,
chatting up anyone who’d pull her string.
Tell me a story. Will you play with me?
What can we do now? Do you love me?
Did I love her? I loved her so much
I had to be careful not to wear her out.
Even though she always “talked back,”
behavior my parents would have spanked me for,
there wasn’t a naughty bone in her
hard little body! When she’d say,
Carry me. Change my dress. Take me with you.
Brush my hair—she always said Please.
When she’d say, Let’s play school.
Let’s have a party. Let’s play house—
she’d flash me her charming potbelly.
May I have a cookie? she’d sweetly ask,
in that high fake goody-goody voice.
She wasn’t allowed to eat or drink—
it would gunk up the mini record player
inside her chest. May I have a cookie?
She’d pester me while I combed her hair
and buttoned her dress for a tea party.
I’m hungry—she’d point her index finger at me until
I held a pretend cookie against her lips
and poured her another empty cup of tea.
May I have a cookie? May I have a cookie?
Finally, one afternoon I gave her one,
squishing it into the holes of her grille.
After that, sometimes she’d start talking
all by herself, a loud deep gargling
that shook her body—limbs akimbo,
skirt inching up—showing her panties
with the MADE IN HONG KONG tag
still attached. I HURT myself! she cried.
Please carry me. I’m hungry. I’m sleepy.
She awoke with two black marks on her leg
and a crack on her back along the seam.
A rash of Chatty Pox dotted her cheeks.
Give me a kiss, she ordered, and I did. <...