Class of ‘69
Carl keeps an excel spreadsheet
for the class of ’69. X’s
mark the dead. I’m looking for
an algorithm—the one
that sealed their fate.
Here’s what we know:
A pool at UMass claimed Kurt Ives
who, at 20 years of age,
mistimed a flip turn.
Nancy H found a van
no place to fall asleep
on the highway at night.
Skippy should’ve had
those headaches scanned.
The brain surgeon Ed
couldn’t cure his own cancer.
Paula OD’d on downs
And Sue slept with the wrong guy.
We could have used a banshee—
keening to let us know
and knowing intervene…
Now we’re getting old.
We look to genes whose code
spells our destiny. Meanwhile,
we do the math.
You once confessed that you were embarrassed
About the mustard stain on your tablecloth
Bright yellow against the robin’s egg blue
Nearly complementary, but not quite
I liked the mustard stain
It was part of your world
Just like the couch that was just long enough
For us to face each other with legs extended
A life raft of sorts, carrying us through the evening
Sipping tea cups filled with wine, plus a shot of brandy
I remember standing in front of a painting with you
At the Chazen Museum of Art
We squinted closely to pick out the faded shapes
Of extinct creatures
It was hard to make out whether they were in the foreground or background
What was it trying to show us?
I don’t know what the painting was called
But I went back there often and basked in the memory
Of absorbing it with you by my side
Sometimes on a rainy day
Sometimes between classes
Sometimes when I missed feeling close to you
I remember laughing at your bulky winter mittens
Likening them to boxing gloves
And you would throw a couple of sample punches, grinning
Your straight white smile
Beaming at me from under your tousled mat of curls
It was the same smile that you shot at the bus driver
When he asked if I was your girl
Please know that I wanted to be
I didn’t know how at the time
But I did love you with a childlike sense of curiosity
The same curiosity that crept across your face
That day that I pulled back the shower curtain
And invited myself in
When I finally came around to opening my heart
You reminded me that I was a stick who stood alone, unsupported
And you were a stick that leaned upon other sticks to remain upright
Perhaps you were right
But I want you to know that I’ve kept your letters
Scrawled in your perfect script
In a separate part of my jewelry box
The same jewelry box that also contains
Your grandmother’s amber necklace
The clasp doesn’t work anymore
But the memory sends blood rushing to my cheeks
You can let me know if you want it back someday
Marriage as of Late
Her shoulders are dog-eared
but wide as Irish goodbyes,
she tries to leave me for good
only after promising she wouldn’t.
She’s got morning absence:
a hole in the mattress
deep as I’d dug it
during that argument about my father leaving me
did that mean I would leave her?
She crawls back to the same hole.
Like a 7PM “goodnight,”
everything she says is moldy
her way of making me feel like a November pumpkin.
She expires on my side of the bed,
hoping I push her into her side
into the hole.
But we’ll sleep on my side
until it becomes a hole, too.
Sleep until there’s no longer a bed.
Then, sleep on the floor.
If I could weep,
I would make saltwater tea for you,
foolish, fat man,
full of bluster and lies.
Today I am beyond tears, but others aren’t.
Here, have a cup of tears wept
for the grandmas felled by COVID,
for George Floyd,
for immigrant children
for Iowa’s farmers,
for the coral reefs,
the burned coastline.
How many cups can you drink?
Buddha’s tears infuse
My burdock root tea, rain drops
Splash from lotus leaves.
The whetstone of conflict
honed my tongue
to put back in his mouth
—Lu Ann Kaldor
A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries
It feels exactly like the crowded
kitchen in Queens, New York when
Queens, New York was still like country,
in the big three family Victorian when my father’s
only brother was put in his grave ten years after
my father and we all gathered in the big
kitchen around the big table with my father’s five
sisters surrounding me. It feels like that
now, lamenting you and yearning for you,
a relationship of ten years being with you and
taking care of me, and my oldest cousin asked if
I was okay standing at the grave because I looked
so pale. I really could have married you, and
I should have after ten years of knowing you and
taking care of you, how stupid was I? I waited for
all of them: one dark, one fair, another older than
the rest until all five were there around me. I waited
until the coffee was served to say how much I missed
him and how I wished I could die at seven-
teen and the oldest looked at the ceiling and the
darkest looked away and the fairest got up
to get more coffee. I thought for sure at least
one of my five aunts would lend me a tear, but they
are all children of a war hero as my father was, and
so I felt the fool with my face wet sitting at that
table until one of their husbands began imitating an
altar boy in church earlier, who was conspicuously
picking his nose during the service which of
course made everyone laugh and forget that
the worst has just happened, and then the oldest
finally stopped looking at the ceiling and I
got up to get myself another cup of coffee.
I Love You in This Way
Inspired by Pablo Neruda
I do, I love you in a way
I don’t find words often enough.
I don’t love you the way
books say, forever repeating,
before sonnets dared not rhyme,
when fate was poetic and intimate.
Still, I don’t love you anywhere
but here at home, held by night,
inside a line’s refusal to merge,
dissipating dreams before dawn,
leaving only anxious air,
stars and wishes no longer
wishable, fleeting and gone
before the bluish moon surrenders.
I don’t love in daylight, on a bench,
in a breeze, smokeless and alone,
as cold marble foreshadows
what little time we may have.
In left-handed ways I love you,
don’t know what it feels like to be right.
I only ask you stop—understand just
what it means for us to love this way.
paired with glasses of wine
met lips that dripped with honey.
A setting sun
and clothes undone
Eden these lovers do carry.
It was dark
from your bed
and like falling
into a dream
you were gone
at the window
still warm in mine.
—E Gironda, Jr
Illuminated and hedonistic,
She made love to the sun.
Setting her insides on fire,
Her engrossment had begun.
He took everything that he could from her,
She turned out her pockets just in case.
He promised a reward for the suffering,
So she accepted the debase.
But then he kissed her once and told her
That he belonged to the sky.
That there was no use in loving her,
And it made no sense to try.
Just as quickly as it started,
He disappeared without a trace.
Except the burn marks on her body,
And boiling tears that scorched her face.
The sun shone through her window,
She ducked under covers to avoid his rapacious glare.
But there weren’t actually any covers,
And the sun wasn’t really there.
How I Sign ‘Rocco’
is also dedicated
to those who,
or by famine,
watch their children
die in their arms
and on their streets
Oh to go back
with today's wisdom
follies and faith
—Sydna Altschuler Byrne