The book was called What the Living Do, every word meant to cut into our hearts so that, by the time she finished reading, I refused to let go of her.
It was mid-morning. Out of coffee. Still quiet in winter. The best moments for us were in between our waking and living.
She was beautiful when she padded across my room in one of my shirts, always up early, face greasy from sleep — we’d spent the night stuck together so that you didn’t know who was who.
She pulled out the book from her bag and got back in bed. I rested my head on her rising stomach, and listened to her insides. And then the words:
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
We lied there in bed, defeated, knowing that one day everyone loses someone but you keep at it because that’s what love is — fighting a losing fight. Then we got dressed and prepared for our day. As soon as we started to live, I think, it was all downhill from there.
*The poem is from What the Living Do by Marie Howe.