The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Robley Wilson



You ask me
how do I pass the time
when I'm away from you,
and I'm a long time

a long time
in which we notice
the traffic
and the rain
and people whispering
in the downstairs hall,
and that the candle
we had dinner by
is nearly used up.
Our shadows flutter
on the walls,
and you ask again:
how do I pass the time
when I'm away from you.

And I think if I
open my mouth to answer
my soul will get out
and go dance with the shadows,
or the words I say
will heat up in the last
warmth of the flame
and pop like bubbles,
or—God help us—
I'll tell the truth.

All the while I
stay quiet, you believe
lies. You believe
that I do nothing
when I'm apart from you,
that my hands
unless they are holding yours
are idle, that my mouth
when not kissing yours
is only getting
chapped in the wind,
that my body
when it is not weighing
against yours
is a dummy to hang
disreputable clothes on.

You believe
I waste away when I'm not
with you, that my health
declines into irregularity,
that I have insomnia
and go for lonely walks
after midnight
down deserted streets
looking for an open drugstore
to buy sedatives.

I think you believe
I'm good for nothing
unless you're near me—
that I'm bored to despair,
brood about suicide,
that it is all in the world
I can manage to do
to grow my fingernails
and my hair
and a little beard....
and anything more
exhausts me.

I bet you think
I'm nobody without you—
that you are my ideal,
my best daytime fantasy,
the constant muse
guarding me from writer's cramp,
the wholesome sexual outlet
keeping my prostate
healthy against middle age,
that you are the good woman
behind my everyman,
my earth mother,
tooth fairy,
the half-time queen
of all the games I play at.

I know
you believe you are my
conscience, the wrong
teaching me right,
the evil I measure good by,
and the victim I am
guilty for; and the questioner—
How do you pass the time
when I'm away from you?—

I never have an answer for.

And not tonight, either—
only now that the candle
has hissed black
into its own melted flesh,
and the downstairs hall
is silent, and the rain
comes harder at the windows
until we can't see the shadows
on the walls to be
amused or frightened by—

Now the only
decent thing to do
(and this is how
I never pass the time
when I'm away from you)
is to love,
so we are neither of us
what we think we are,
but what we wish
we might always be.


For the truth is:

In this room, in this bed,
in these animal acrobatics
we so often practice
and have grown so facile at,
love is not the question.

Death is the question, age
is the question, the vicious
fact of time is the question—
but I have
no answer for them, either.

Never mind what you think
you are, or what I am,
or how the two of us pass
the days and nights
touching or not touching.
The truth is nothing
like your daydreams,
your desires, or
your exquisite night terrors.
The truth is simple:
You are young; your skin
is cool as new leaves,
your eyes when they melt for me
are like blue flowers
dyeing the mirror of the river
they grow alongside,
your arms are white vines
in a garden I have dreamt of
where the moon never sets.

Your body is a land grant
I settle and plunder—I
the opportunist,
the all-too-human prospector
taking from you
to show off your richness
to the envious world before
it is too late
and you are stolen clean.

Then you will stop
being young, and then
I'll say the truth out loud:
While you're young
I'll have all of you the law
and your own fondness
permit, pretend to adore you,
occupy your body
like a responsible tenant
who pays his rent in advance.

By the time you are old
(sooner than you imagine)
I will have moved out.
The rooms of your heart
will stand empty for a while,
then the mice will move in;
you'll feel a gnawing
inside you; you'll call it


How's that for truth?
How's that for love?
How's that for what a man does
when he's doing
what he does best? Kiss me,
love. Embrace me, love. Do
this, love. Do that, love,
again and again. Love.

Ask a simple question.
Get a simple answer.




ROBLEY WILSON has been a Guggenheim Fellow in fiction and a Nicholl Fellow in screenwriting. His fourth novel is After Paradise, from Black Lawrence Press.



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