BY KAI CARLSON-WEE
In the last letter you wrote me, sealed with castor wax,
mailed from somewhere in Hungary I couldn’t
make out, the last page yellowed and signed
in your blood, as you always did then, from the side
of your thumb or the pale stretch under your thigh,
you wrote, Love is a distance, failed by time,
and went on to describe how the Gaudi cathedral
was melting, how the human statues that lined
the streets of Las Ramblas could hold so perfectly still
there was no way to know they were breathing.
Nothing is permanent here, you wrote, but nothing is lost.
In the bleached light of those Red River winters
I drove to my weekend job at the parks department,
clearing the sidewalks in front of the depot, shoveling
entryways, salting the roads. How purely the cold
made a claim on the body. How slowly the gold
in the hoarfrost fell to the landlines and bent stalks of corn.
If telling you made any difference. If hearing your name
in the high-liner fences, jaw-harp harmonicas, moans
of the train. I think of the night you did acid in Dennison,
frozen and throwing up vitamins, dragging the mud
from your boots on the bed. Or the night we went
driving around on the service roads, finding the bones
of a wolf in the ditch. How quietly the skull sat shining
in the moonlight. And how quietly I held you then,
watching the tree-shadows rise on the downed blinds,
talking of floodlights and wolf eyes and what
a strange gift it would be to be dead. Those moments
are silence inside me now. Lost in the snow-piles north
of the yard. And what can I call them? A phony rose?
A frozen carnation? A thing to keep sealed
in a clear plastic box in the fridge? It could have been
anyone, taking me down to the train-bridge, pouring
the India ink on my shin. Walking the deer trails
back to the spillway, climbing the guardrail, touching
our tongues to the bars. Not to love, you wrote, but to learn
not to trust the deception. For it’s this life or nothing.
To die with intention. To leave something blue in your skin.
Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of Rail, forthcoming from BOA Editions. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and his work has appeared in Narrative, Best New Poets, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, and The Missouri Review, which selected him for the 2013 Editor’s Prize. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his co-directed poetry film, Riding the Highline, received Special Jury Awards at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival and the 2016 Arizona International Film Festival. With his brother Anders, he has co-authored the chapbooks Mercy Songs and Two-Headed Boy, winner of the David Blair Memorial Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco and is a Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University.