You flipped me off the first time we met.
You, laughing and maniacal from behind your windshield, Mary
clinging to the door, begging you not to drive home.
Fucking asshole, I thought.
You drove home.
You never did remember that night-or admit to remembering it.
You kissed me at a party once, Mary's party,
to make her angry-you kissed all the girls-
with lips that were warm, and soft, and alive.
Do you remember?
Do you remember that Halloween automaton ghost at the bar,
the one that Mary had to have after drinking too many martinis
and assaulting the waitress in the bathroom?
So you tried to conceal the unruly beast, binding it in your jacket
while it wiggled and "whoo"ed
like a mental patient trying to escape his restraints.
And we were chased out, out into the street, on to the next bar,
laughing, dancing, changing partners, falling over,
challenging the college freshman (probably our students)
to say something about it.
I saw you once, maybe the real you,
when we sat alone at our English Department table in the corner of that same bar.
You told me you doubted your sanity, were afraid, wanted help.
I knew you did, feared for you, begged you to get it, understood you too
And as soon as I saw you, reached my hand out to you,
a table of pretty young co-eds sat down at the table next to us
and you slipped away from me as quickly as you had shown yourself to me,
slipped back into The Patrick Show,
strutting, preening, making the girls giggle and toss their hair,
doing your best Mick Jagger, as if even the juke box itself
bursting into Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown was in cahoots with you.
After you left for Pennsylvania,
I read Touched With Fire, thought of you again and again,
how you were touched with fire, too much fire,
and how bright blazes burn so quickly, so uncontainably.
I wanted to send you the book, thought it might mean something,
thought of it every turn of the page, the way people always mean to say I love you
but there is never enough time. Never the right time.
It is all left undone. It is all left unsaid.
I keep a bottle of bourbon to put out fires-
like Faulkner did, the flask still sits on his bedside bookcase
for the tourists to gawk at, make snide comments about-
the way the department whispered about the bottle
in the bottom drawer of your desk.
I am more like you than they know,
more like you than you knew,
more like you than I care to admit.
Now you have left me to carry that fiery torch alone.
And now I think often of that book I never sent,
of the books you never wrote,
of the books you will never write,
of the books that no one will ever send anyone,
or no one.
And I don't want to stop writing this poem
because I don't want it all to be final.
And I think of your lips,
lips which spit fire and venom and kissed girls at parties.
And I think about you in a barren field,
your lips cold and hard like the winter ground where they found you,
and blue, like ice,
they are always blue.