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It Makes Sense
(Dedicated to Amy)

by Carlene Bonnivier

It makes sense that you
would come to me and tell me
in that half distracted way of yours
that you were leaving
this time
for good.

You began, in my dream,
   as the man
   I’d called husband.
The voice, embarrassment,
   saying something that didn’t fit
   his idea of himself:
“I am leaving because you are weak.”

Then he was you, wearing
   a chartreuse dress, chiffon,
   see-through but I could hardly
   see your skin.  Your face
   covered with green gauze.  Your hair
   tied with green ribbons into bows.
You, distracted, centered on yourself.

You looked off in the distance— 
   the movement of your head
   the upturning of your shoulders—
   seeking escape.
“Your behavior.”

Mornings.  Before dawn sometimes.
I begged you not to leave.
I thought if you could
   see how it hurt me,
   you wouldn’t do it.
But it was that revelation, sometimes violent, 
   that made you rush through the door, then stop 
   and demand I say goodbye.
But I wouldn’t do it.
The withholding sort of held you near.
 
I could hold you all, force you to be my mother, my husband, my father, the person who loves me for being,
the person whose heart would break if I said goodbye.

Now I’m more than twice as old as you were
   when I called you mother.
I dressed you in chiffon then, too.
White because of the photographs
   kept in the camphor chest.

It was from China,
   given to you by my phantom father.
A hope in his heart that
  this would be the last time
  he’d have to say goodbye.

He dressed you in white, too.
The potted palms and potted white man
   who took you to the dances at Camp John Hay.

Did you wear a wide brimmed hat in the photo I saw
   or did I give you that, a total gift from me,
   a white silk sash went round your hat
   and then down your back, flowing.
You were shy to speak.
The black sparkle I gave your eyes
And your eyes
look away from the man and beyond the camera
   into my eyes, waiting to be seen.
That was all mine.

In the photo, your eyes narrowed
   and in the corners the merest hint of a line
   nothing more than a suggestion
   of pleasure and kindness.

Even your shoes were white.
Your hose.
Did you wear a slip?
I don’t recall at all that I gave you one,
   but it could have been silk with lace at the bottom.
I imagine I’d have given you gardenias.
I knew little of flowers, though.
Orchids, you said, grew wild on the hillsides.
I grew wild, too.  Something passed on to me?
Our common blood infused with those mountain flowers?

The photos.
I saw white men at a table
   looking lusty though
   their eyes were on the camera
In their hands glasses filled with ice and whiskey.
Some smoked cigars.
All had women by their sides,
   native women or their wives.

Did this white man see you as a native.
Did he become more of a man than ever
   there in the ballroom at Camp John Hay
   loving you for helping him create himself.

Later in the hotel in Manila
   you became a woman for him
   and for the freedom in his eyes.
He was shipping out in the morning.
You saw him off. 
Did you cry? Rent your clothing? 
Pull your hair?  Beat your chest? 

You knew he would be back.
Your faith, you said, would bring him back.

Lovers for me came and went.  Goodbye was good.
But there was one, like you, who
   never looked deeply into my eyes or
   listened when I dared speak my heart.
Like the men in the photo, drink in hand,
   sometimes a smoke, a man among men,
   gathered at the table for the game,
   any game at all.
To me silent as celluloid.
But even his indifference couldn’t hold me
   after while.
Goodbye was good.

The other night you came to me
  you two.
Dressed in chartreuse
   (not really transparent)
   the color of poison or new growth
   the green gauze covering forever the eyes that looked my     
   way but never saw me.

You waited till I had a home. 
Till I was good.  Behaved.
I’m glad you came. 
Oh I do grieve the love I’ve lost.
But anger carved out a solid home
   to comfort me
   and stayed
   all this time. 
Now that, too, is going.
I don’t have to wait anymore,
   and I will not perish.

© Carlene Bonnivier

 

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