We Were Here
In ancient China, seek
poems were like receipts of being:
If we were together and encountered a swan,
I might write you a poem about a swan,
whether or not I was a poet.
And if I came to your house and you weren’t there,
I might nail a page to your door,
a poem I wrote about love or friendship, or both.
Or a poem I didn’t write
about ships passing in the night.
And you would have to write a poem back to me
whether or not you were in a poetry mood,
one saying (likely without saying it),
“yeah, I got your poem.”
And you’d pay back every affection,
part out of honor and part out of obligation.
(Like we did at our worst.)
But imagine the paper trail we’d have now
if we lived or loved by those rules.
Having chronicled in words
each unrecorded action,
we would have fashioned
a time machine, through which
every gesture of return,
could still be held —
as if we ere still returning
to each other in the end.
We would have filled whole books by now.
Filled long shelves, whole libraries,
with sweet smelling pages
stained with your cologne.
But imagine, too, the crumpled arguments.
Poems jotted on the backs of history papers,
in the margins of homework.
Poems that would lie
about what we want
for no reason.
The ones we would have written
without knowing yet
which words leave the heart sore
Short poems, with no meaning
other than to fill space
or prove we were still there,
still inexplicably together.
And the ones we’d write, saying, “where’s your honor?”
Saying “I wrote you a poem; where’s mine?”
“You owe me at least that.”
I’d want to burn those poems
and undo everything.
if I could only read our first kiss again,
see each early glance
unriddled in your trembling chicken scratch,
it would be worth those others.
And if I could only read it all back to you now,
like a map back to mystery,
perhaps I could convince us both anew,
what honor could be, and love,