On those rocky island beaches
the sand’s like blasted chalk—
shell shards and crackling seaweed
and shattered Rolling Rocks—
but still we practiced footwork
on the slabs that ringed the beach.
That sharp stuff couldn’t touch us
until your toe began to bleed.
Dunes rippled in the wind.
I squeezed against the throbbing.
We’d left home in high-noon sun
for beach-combing and rock-hopping.
It’s clear to me in retrospect,
though you were hurt that day,
which of us risked the most
in our youthful escapades—
like the muggy night we sipped
your grandma’s hidden booze,
quoted Plath and Sexton,
coquetted with the Muse,
or when we carried trays
at that charity soiree,
hid the glasses, cleared the plates,
got drunk beneath the stairs.
Like scrap sea glass too raw to keep,
attempting to be smooth,
I declared that summer evening,
I’ll hold a place for you.
I meant, of course, as best friends—
I didn’t need us to be more,
never needed to pretend
in all our time together.
It was our last Maine summer
though neither of us knew.
Next spring, when I found her,
you flipped—then you were gone.
Senior year you wrote a poem
on spotting me in a crowd.
But it’s me who gazes out alone,
and “years from now” is now.
And now. And now. You haunt me still.
The years pile on, yet in my dreams,
you show up, impassive and chill,
the plot nearly always the same:
you sit doodling, unconcerned,
or look elsewhere, as if repelled;
my messy begging unreturned—
be my friend be my friend.
I’ve dreamed you into the room
dozens of times over the years,
then wake up all alone,
enraged that I still care;
or else it’s my own shame
that shimmers above my head—
the awful things I must have done
to drive away a friend.
A ghost is a presence;
you’re not generous enough for that.
You excel at absence.
It’s me who haunts myself.
I still recall (I knew I would)
that moment in its timeless frame,
when I watched you from the boat
as we towed you through the waves.
Your dad had suggested tubing,
a pastime you didn’t want to do,
especially if he was driving,
his one goal to knock you loose.
Yet there you were, arms thin and white
through the holes of your lifejacket.
You gripped the handles of the float—
but when it knocked you off, you let it—
your face a perfect mixture
of boredom and acquiescence,
your flight the perfect gesture
of accepting what was destined.
Just like now, you were always cool,
elegant with indifference.
But I brought out the warmth in you.
With me, it was different.
It’s not lost love
that bleeds and will not heal.
Broken romance I could forgive.
Lovers almost always leave.
Why do I mourn what’s over?
Why do I feel and feel?
The questions clang and stutter,
dull bells between my ears.
The day I knocked the mirror
off my car, I called her first—
then called you to tell the story.
A meaningless, fateful choice.
I’ll never forget your icy voice
clicking to silence on the line.
I’m jealous of her, you said.
The phrase flickers like a knife.
Years later, at the coffee shop,
I told you I still hurt.
You swirled your drink, you let me talk,
but nothing leapt or stirred,
nothing appeared between us
but indefinite space
filled with teacups and civility
and your dream-like, placid face.
What is it about you—what was it
that bound us together back then?
Dawson’s Creek and K Records?
Poetry and like-mindedness?
You loved me implicitly,
though I was often rash and selfish,
frustrated and vulnerable
in my unrealized queerness.
And you—petite and sarcastic,
my irreverent feminist.
We found each other in science class,
both protesting pig dissection.
Yesterday I found a photo
of you on that rocky beach.
You’re looking over your shoulder,
your brown eyes locked on me—
like a silk-haired doll, windswept,
or an old-time actress offering her neck,
dunes waving in the distance.
It’s that look, its force and glitter,
the way it effortlessly hurls
years of laughter and secrets
and tenderness between two girls,
that makes me wonder yet again
where you put it—where it went?
that small creature of our friendship
that still rustles in my chest.