I wonder at your quiet thorough calm:
the night before your lung operation,
a fortune cookie blank inside your palm,
you still imagined messages that made
a world whole and completely possible,
constructed mostly from that empty slip.
YOU WILL GO ON A JOURNEY LONG AND FULL
YOUR LIFE’S GEOGRAPHY SHOWS FREQUENT TRICKS
YOU WILL SIT UP ONE NIGHT WITH A LUNATIC
ex-girlfriend, in her catatonic grip,
while I wait at home, as volatile,
in the only lighted room in the neighborhood
and read the “Night Life” listings, pages curled
around cartoons, or travel ads I could
phone to send me loose across the world.
Toll-free numbers of hotels compared,
I make a reservation everywhere
and wonder how to measure what I’d learn
in such a travelling out. But I return
to my inmost fear of losing you to you,
of, in my terror, letting go too soon.
While you, so self-sufficient, sure and glib,
have never touched exactly where you breathe.
It took a doctor to first crack the ribs
apart, remove the lung unsheathed;
for once you couldn’t manage your disease.
When someone finally reached that private sphere,
you say, “It hurt like hell for years.”
Judith Baumel is the author of three books of poetry: The Kangaroo Girl (GenPop books, 2011), Now (University of Miami Press, 1996), and The Weight of Numbers (Wesleyan University Press, 1988), for which she won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She has published poetry, translations, and essays in Poetry, The Yale Review, AGNI, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. A recent Fulbright Fellow at the University of Genoa and a former president of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, she is professor of English and founding director of the Creative Writing Program at Adelphi University. (updated 11/2018)