what kind of memory does the band-tailed
pigeon have that it fears us
because, years ago, we hunted it?
great blue herons were also hunted,
but they look you in the eye,
face-to-face, until you come within a few feet–
then they squawk and row slowly away
to show they don’t think much of you.
bald eagles, too, look straight at you.
they could care less if you mean
well or have a gun–they know
how little we amount to and are willing
to risk telling us. if one’s ever
peered at you from a tree limb,
looking down its hooked beak the way
a disgruntled judge might consider you over the ridge
of her reading glasses, you know what i mean.
lately, there’s not much i’m willing
to risk telling you. the other day, when i called
to find out how your dog was after hearing
he’d been attacked by the neighbor’s mutt,
i wanted to hang up as soon as i heard
“hello.” i felt like a kid who screws up
her courage to open the closet door
and check for monsters, only to scream
and slam it shut before her eyes
can adjust to darkness.
it’s not the well-meant betrayals i’m afraid of–
how for months you hid
your growing dissatisfaction and pain
behind a wall of smiles
or how you cooked me dinner just before
breaking it off, trying to replicate
the meal we’d shared in Morocco
down to the ceramic platter you’d bought there,
so that, for the rest of the night,
i tried to retch that tomatoey hamburger up.
the danger is feeling the love
i still have for you. i keep it
locked down tight. when it starts to rise,
i gasp from the crushing cube of pain
in the middle of my chest. it takes all my muscle
to push the love back down again,
to make it lie, drugged, along my diaphragm,
instead of delivering its paralyzing venom
to every extremity.
i’m with the pigeons. pride and bravado
have no place here. little can be gained
from even the boldest emotional
fuck you, but the losses are incalculable.
“bulkheads” was first published in Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly.