by Jennifer Freed

Yes, if he had loved me – or loved enough, I would have stayed on his
side of the ocean, in his world of coal-sharp winter
air and pubs blue with cigarette smoke and
a castle on the horizon in which the once-jailed playwright
who had become President was rumored to use roller skates
to speed his passage down the long, medieval hallways
to his office.

Back then, the shops signs still said simply Meat or Bread or Paper,
and everyone was learning how to put their names on what they said
and what they sold, and how to choose when choice
was free, and he and I went out at night, and listened
to the banter of the newly legal bands, and he translated poetry,
and wrote some of his own, and played the sax
badly, and his best friend was a sculptor
of giant, whimsical creatures, and also a
garbage collector, because under the Communists it was not strange
to find artists herded toward such work,
perhaps in hopes they’d lose the impulse to create
a dissonant chord in the harmonious Socialist State.

When I loved him, the Communists
were just barely gone, and the writers
were stepping out to sing their poetry in public, and one night
someone painted a Soviet war memorial in cotton-candy-pink,
so that for days, people gathered round it in the park
and thought,
and talked,
and talked about the nuances
of a pink Soviet tank, and the reverence owed to war and death and
memory, and the freedom
of irreverence.

He liked Warhol, and the Velvet Underground,
and he knew a former coal-stoker who was
one of the new journalists of the new
newspapers that put the pink tank debates on their front pages, and if
he had loved me enough to ask me
to stay, then I would have
stayed, and gone on living amongst such people, in such a place.

But he did not, and I did not,
and life lead me to here, to now, to you,
to a brown house in a green suburb where we
have two daughters and a two-car garage. We
plant vegetables in the back yard, and daffodils in the front, and at night
I walk the dog,
and watch the stars,
and in spring the peepers fill the air.

It’s true, sometimes I can’t help wondering
what has become of him
and of the me I would have
been. But I am so much older now. I know
that soon enough in that life, too,
dirty dishes would have piled up in the sink.
Even in a world alive with love, and art, and wit, someone has to pay
for light and heat.

So it’s not that I regret. It’s that I remember
and yet can’t quite believe
that person was me,
and sometimes I like the throb
of what is gone,
like the tongue going back to the place where the loose tooth was,
still probing.

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