Philip Wexler lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where he also works for the National Library of Medicine, although retirement is on the horizon. He has had some 150 poems published in magazines over the years and currently hosts a reading series, Words out Loud, at Artists & Makers, in Rockville, Maryland. He continues to seek a publisher for one of his full-length poetry manuscripts. In addition to writing, he also works in mosaics.
She had just begun a letter to me
when I called, how prescient.
I asked what it was about and she said
she couldn’t hear me, a poor connection,
but I’d read it soon enough. She didn’t ask
me why I called, just wished I’d let her go
so she could finish the letter. She shouted
“Goodbye” as if I couldn’t hear her,
but she was crystal clear. She wouldn’t hang
up, though, until I said it too, but I wanted
to talk about our drifting apart. She said
she didn’t know what I was saying,
and anyway wanted to get back to the letter
and that I was tying up her line.
She asked if I had said goodbye yet, uncertain
because of the connection. “No,” I shouted.
“Fine,” she screamed, and told me
she’d be wrapping the phone
in a dish towel and laying it down.
I kept talking, no word of reply from her.
After a few minutes she was back, upset
that my muffled voice was seeping
through the towel and keeping her
from finishing even the first line of the letter
about how maybe we were just too much
together to begin with. Was I ready to say
goodbye yet she wanted to know. “No,”
I shouted. “Fine,” she screamed.
I told her not to stand on ceremony
and hang up already if that’s what she wanted.
When suddenly she did, I fell silent, resigned
to wait for her letter. A moment later
when my phone rang, it was her,
saying we must have been disconnected.
Chin on the sofa back, as a girl, she’d lose herself
in the spectacle of goldfinches feeding on thistle,
or by running barefoot through dandelion meadows.
She was granted a canary, to bring the outside in,
and sang with it daily, while the dwarf banana tree
yielded fruit indoors, to everyone’s amazement.
Her collection of scarves in every shade of yellow,
for warmth and fashion, or fashion alone, almost
filled two wide drawers of a maple dresser.
She nearly swooned when he popped the question
with a gold engagement ring, and could not stop
saying yes, until he smothered her with kisses.
The kitchen wallpaper, patterned with wheat sheaves,
embraced her, like his love. Once a month she’d grate
rind for lemon poppy seed cake, his favorite.
Invariably, she would pause in the entryway
of the Chinese restaurant to study, now distractedly,
the yellow tangs in the enormous saltwater aquarium.
With her lady friends, she acted quite refined, but
was increasingly bored, talking about art, and sipping
Galliano liqueur, with its top notes of vanilla and anise.
Most of all she held to the sun, to deliver her
from increasing cares that were not in the plan,
which finally unraveled once she discovered, tied
in a yellow ribbon, a lock of blonde hair, so unlike
her own dull brown, lying on his desk, in plain sight.
Still, she took comfort in memories when all that was
left was the exposed incandescent bulb over her
creaky bed at the Gold Star Motel and Lounge,
and the scruffy callers with their sallow complexions.