The doctor wore two days of stubble, an air
of cigarette smoke and a black Adidas track suit
to dinner, where we drank grape brandy out
of crystal glasses, each etched with a single
running horse. Enormities lay outside the circle
of kitchen light—wind slamming doors and breaking
glass at night, a young, drunken Bulgarian
at the wrong apartment who knocked and shouted
to let him in, my gut, broken by too many days
in the infectious tropical climate I’d come from,
her dream of me carrying a glowing skull, my need
to escape her, escape me.
The doctor was her friend and sat patiently
while she translated my symptoms.
Who else was there? I can’t recall, having
purposefully forgotten so much of that, our
only winter together in a foreign land.
Somehow, it’d all seemed much easier in California
with temperatures tomorrow again in the 70s,
cheap Mexican mangos all year round, and our
common tongue. But there, in that intimate land
of saints and demons, broken Romany musicians
playing in the taverns, what looked like a dyslexic
alphabet, and the “blocks”—monoliths of communist
concrete honey-combed with small, indistinct
apartments—we fell sick.
The doctor outlined a plan for me. If I could go
back, that’s what I’d ask for—a transplant
of his purpose, the gravity of his dark
features and thick eyebrows, the way he could
drink brandy or stand the relentless cold.
He probably cheated on his wife, but even then,
I could’ve used the strength of what love
he had for her, even if it was as small
as the last sip of spirits in a crystal glass.
Instead, I received a regimen of vitamins, herbal teas,
and dietary restrictions that I ignored. In place
of vitamins, I took indecision and long walks in the cold.
In lieu of herbal teas, alcohol. And as for diet,
the only thing I didn’t eat was her, as I should’ve,
like a bear for warmth before hibernation.
Spring threatened. From our apartment, I saw
a black horse gallop down the street while three men
pursued in a car. One leaned out the window
with a rope, but they disappeared around a corner
before he could make the throw.
And when I realized the young, drunk Bulgarian
hadn’t had the wrong door, I knew no medicine
would work for us, but after the police came
to ask for my expired passport, it didn’t matter
whether we were sick or not—
all the documents agreed I must go.
It was better that way, to go suddenly
without a big goodbye. Suddenly, like one grows
old, tired of the same fights, then leaves
on a weirdly moonlit night. Suddenly,
like one takes medicine, a shot of brandy,
betrayal, or a kiss.
Author Discusses Poems