When you explained why you were setting the table, I kept mishearing things.
I mistook guest for ghost, and before that, Mahler for failure. For awhile, I just stood
there, trying to think of something polite to say to you.
You told me, quietly, how I would never understand. That I was only a woman who
wanted to be a wife. On the table, champagne flutes sparkled. The silver forks
shimmered in pairs.
That was when I cleared away the dishes. I opened my mouth to speak—
The first night I was iced out of the city.
Beneath the window, a dead bird covered in snow. You said you had been waiting in
the hotel lobby, with your red silk tie, those drinks in tiny cups. At my feet, shattered
glass. The finch’s broken neck. I just sat there, counting the dirty feathers, its cracked
bones. The dead bird said nothing.
Still, I couldn’t stop looking. Even in the dark, it felt like staring into a mirror.
My sister looked at me and said, You choose the love you think you deserve. She poured
another cup of herbal tea. Out the window, I see birds burying their dead.
On the second night, the city still wouldn’t have me.
I find myself turning away from photographs. That shot of you in a black wool suit.
The people who come close to shake your hand. And a sky that looks even colder
than the weather.
I won’t stop pleading with the city. When the lights go out, I try again. And again.
All those prayers wasted on a sheet of ice.
That you’ll appear before me.
Like a white horse galloping through the eye of a needle.
On the third night, they started leaving the city.
That was when I first arrived. A woman at the hotel desk said you’d made a
reservation. So I took an elevator to the eighteenth floor. I found frost on every
mirror, the locks on the doors sealed shut from the cold.
People kept leaving the city, taking their coats and wallets with them.
All I could do was wait. Once the ice thawed, I realized you were already gone.
At first, you didn’t quite understand. How I carried all that grief from city to city,
until it turned into an enormous white halo around my head.
And the stars. The way they followed my sadness, rising and falling like an ocean.
Before long, even the cities where we lived began to circle around my melancholy,
each one a thread spinning through the eye of a needle.
One morning, you woke and noticed that the world around you moved differently.
The freeway no longer led to the subway station. And the flower stand wasn’t where
you remembered it.
You cried, but neither one of us could change it back.
Kristina Marie Darling is the author of nearly twenty books, which include Melancholia (An Essay) (Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and Stories 2007-2014 (BlazeVOX Books, forthcoming). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Poetics at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo.