Winter Conference

Almost a year
since you fell in love with her.

Even longer since you welcomed her
into your most private, secret dreams,
where her legs part beneath you
as she waits, beautiful and naked, for you
to fill her milky center
with your abundance and skill.

Now you sit beside her on the plane,
and as usual, she laughs at your jokes
as sincerely as she talks of Bach and Szymborska
and the ability of certain music and certain poetry
to lift one away from one’s self,
which is why you love her
more wholly than your wife,
who you imagine at home reading People Magazine
or buying a new pair of shoes.

You sign your name and take your key
and can’t believe your luck
when you hear the apologetic concierge explain
that her reservation has been lost,
or perhaps, the woman suggests,
the company you both work for
simply failed to book two rooms.

Calmly, you accept the news
that there is no vacancy, the hotel is booked.
The next two nights must be shared,
it can’t be helped.

The king size bed is large, you think.
Too large.  You wish it were a twin,
wide enough for only one body,
or rather one on top of another.

You are grateful there is no couch,
no need to chivalrously resign yourself to it
after dinner,
which is made more delicious
by her company, her smile,
her questions about your childhood.

You could not tire of her,
you convince yourself, as she showers
in the bathroom, the door closed,
the steam rising as you consider
relieving your ache before she comes
out with her dark hair wrapped
in a clean white towel.

Instead, you consider the pattern of luck today,
and the way she looks into you
as she listens
to the stories you love to tell.

She already called her husband,
said goodnight to her child,
told them both she loved them
without ever mentioning your name,
the shared room, the single bed.

You are disappointed when she emerges,
not by the red nightgown,
but that she is wearing it at all,
that the night might pass
without the music of her breath
beside your ear.

Do you mind if I read, she asks,
and you watch her
as she pulls a book from her bag,
and as she lifts her bare legs, smoothed
with scented lotion, into bed.

Closing your eyes, you wonder
if she’ll ask you to scoot over.
You know you’re taking your half
out of the middle,
hoping to brush against her,
hoping she’ll roll next to you in the night,
decide to touch you, taste you,
open herself to your desires.

You take off your t-shirt
and lay back down, your fingers laced
behind your head.
You want her to feel you watching her,
pull her attention toward your skin.

I love you, you want to say,
after she begins to read out loud.
It’s a poem about love
and you wonder if she believes it-
before you realize she has written it.
A tear, just then, disappears into her pillow.

I love you, she says out loud,
and you believe her,
and you watch
as she turns out the light.

DeMaris Gaunt
11-19-11

Heart Surgeon Wanted

Constantly they fail—
those fist-sized lumps of tissue
that pound on and on for decades,
untrained to do anything
but keep the beat
while the body that surrounds them
begins to contemplate its limits.

And unlike oil changers or burger flippers
there isn’t help for the heart on every corner.
No drop-off or drive-through service
for the transplant or triple bypass.

The heart surgeon has a heart of his own—
enormous and brave,
fueling his skilled hands
as they cut open the hearts of others
that have decided to slow down or call it quits.
He answers prayers more reliably than god.

Wherever he goes
he is praised and envied,
except for home—
where guilt is an unexpected byproduct
of an education so complete
he’s beholden to it.

Years ago, when he gave his heart away
to that beautiful girl who said yes,
he couldn’t have imagined how many times
he’d need to apologize
for saving a life—
for missing birthday parties and airplanes
that would have sent him up to pierce the air
like a needle that might have stitched
together those thick layers of his absence.

How epic it is— the fragile and enduring heart.
Even when it’s working properly, it’s a pitiful thing.
Usually, the only thing wrong is how needy it is—
how much it wants,
how much it just can’t bear.
How little it takes
to break it.

DeMaris Gaunt
4-30-13

Survivors

Careful now—
don’t deny yourself
the gratification of self pity
just because the son
of your high school friend
will by dying soon of cancer
or because reputation value
goes up as your vulnerabilities go down.
And I recommend crying.  Alone.
Because no one wants
to see it or hear it or carry it around
for the rest of the afternoon
no matter how much
they say they love you.
It’s best to take a little drive
out to the country
where you can contain the sound
of your indulgent weeping
inside a space designed
for getting from one place to another.
Drive slowly on the bumpy gray road
between the empty fields
painted with snow
and try to quit worrying
about the kid with cancer.
He has his own entourage,
but you’re the only one
who can coach yourself out
of your tiny despairs.
And you should try
to quit feeling guilty
for feeling what you can’t help but feel.
No one you love
wants to read your poems
or hang your art on their walls
and that kind of rejection
deserves a good sulking
and stings as bad as any needle
delivering killing fluid into your veins.
Maybe we’ll both be saved—
the kid and I.
And maybe we’ll both grow old.
Or maybe I’ll be the one to die young
and unexpectedly.  Tomorrow, say.
A car crash or heart attack.
And those who survive me would say
“She didn’t suffer.”
And they wouldn’t be lying,
but they’d be wrong.

DeMaris Gaunt
2-19-15

Hard

Everything is harder
in the winter.
Not just the ground
frozen beneath the snow
but the effort everyone must make
just to move from the front door
to the mailbox,
which may or may not contain a letter
that will change your life or a bill
impossible to pay.
Layers of fleece and flannel
have become your cocoon
and it’s so much easier to eat pasta
three days in a row
than to shovel the drive
so you can make it to the grocery
to buy milk and bread and whiskey—
which, these days,
never seems hard enough.

DeMaris Gaunt
2-17-15

Bright

Crisp and tart like a September apple
is how it tastes to remember you calling out to me to stop—
to wait for you to catch up so you could take my cold hand
into your warm one and tell me you’d give anything
if I’d turn around and change course—
and I was tempted to follow you back into the library
and miss my train to Boston all because
we reached for the same book at the same time—
and it really did seem surreal that you were so beautiful and bright—
and a dozen years later I can’t remember your last name
which would make it so easy to find you in this new world
of Google and Facebook and Linkedin.
But I admit that I am happy you’ve been with me ever since
without flaws, or age, or disagreement, or pain.
You have been more perfect than is possible if I had turned around
and given us a chance to begin, and a chance to end.

DeMaris Gaunt
2-10-15

Inventions

Gods.
Stories.
Paper.
The printing press.
But long before
machines
there was the wheel
and all those tools
born in fire.
Sharp things first
then bullets and coins—
two devices
with a kind of power
to separate life
from the living
almost as completely
as those pesky
fairy-tales
that insist
they are real
and resist amputation.
And even though
some of our
best inventions
like razor blades
and scissors
could easily cut out
the offending pages
of history
there’s still no technology
to boost common sense
or exorcise
that common belief
that we are not
the creators of
every single one
of our capricious
gods.

DeMaris Gaunt
2-9-15