A Love Poem
In the beginning…
I wanted to write a love poem for Darius the first day I saw him at the bagel shop. We had shamelessly flirted with each other for weeks as I ran in to pick up my usual breakfast before I took the initiative and introduced myself. “Hi I’m Noreen,” I said after my pumpernickel bagel had been brown bagged and I took a sip of my java.
“Hi I’m Darius,” he said as he reached for his onion bagel. He offered nothing more than his name and a dimpled smile.
Soon after that, Darius began coming into the bagel shop with a woman. “Good morning Noreen,” he’d say with that same dimpled smile that offered nothing more. He held the woman’s hand as if he was obligated to, like they just had sex and he wanted no more of her, but had to be a gentleman and keep her around for at least half of the day so she wouldn’t feel that was all he wanted. Whenever she came in the bagel shop she could never decide what it was she wanted. Darius was patient with her. “Babe, the cinnamon raisin is pretty good and so is the poppy seed.” I smiled because I knew he was lying. Darius only ordered their onion bagels just like I only ordered their pumpernickel bagels.
Often the woman he was with would just eventually decide on getting a latte after around five minutes of holding up the line. I knew then that she wasn’t right for him and hoped that Darius would soon know this too. Eventually he did. He came in by himself. “Hi Noreen,” he said with his dimpled smile. This time he hesitated walking out of the bagel shop. He lingered a bit getting packets of extra sugar for his coffee and waited for me by the door.
“So you live close by,” he asked.
“Yeah, just on Riverdale,” I said.
Silence. I open my brown paper bag and take a bite out of my pumpernickel bagel.
“Are you involved?,” he asked with hesitation.
“Yes. I’m involved in living my life to the fullest if that’s what you mean,”
“Does that mean having a significant other to live it to the fullest with?”
“Sure does. My best friend Niko who is the most extraordinary artist I know.”
My sister Chandra who is deciding whether she should go ahead and have a preventive double mastectomy because breast cancer runs in my family and hasn’t skipped a generation of women in our family yet, and my cat Mayo, short for mayonnaise, because when I first adopted her my roommate left a jar of Hellman’s on the counter and she got in it, and oh I can’t forget the most adorable and precocious group of preschoolers who I teach dance to. Those are my significant others whom I check in with each day.
“Oh you have a roommate,” he said.
“Used to,” I lied. He was still my roommate as of this morning and sometime lover, usually when we had too many Mojitos.
Not a great way to start a relationship with lies. But I wanted Darius to take his rightful place in my life. Milton was not going to be my roommate/lover after tonight. I would dump him, out of my apartment and my bed. Thankfully I knew he would not put up much of a fight. He wouldn’t yell or curse or call me a bitch. He wouldn’t cry or beg to stay. He would just shrug his teddy bear of a man shoulders and call his brother who lived in Staten Island to pick him and his belongings up. He was a man any woman could take advantage of.
“So can I see you sometime,” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Here’s my number.” He fidgeted as he put it in his cell. I did not ask for his.
That night I broke the news to Milton that he had to leave. He was eating pizza and hot wings and he shrugged his shoulders as expected. He licked the sauce off his fingers and went to call his brother. We had split everything, rent, food, and utilities fifty-fifty, and for a moment I panicked because I was letting go of my security. But I knew if things got rough I could find another roommate on Craigslist before the next rent was due. His brother came to pick him up three hours later. He walked in with his heavy construction boots, dirty with mud and trampled on my beige carpet as if he wanted to violate it like I suppose he thought I violated his brother. “You may have put my wimpish brother out but you will have my manly footprints ingrained in your carpet until you can rent a Sears vacuum to clean it, because the vacuum belongs to my brother anyway and he’s taking it with him,” I assumed he was saying because of the smug smile on his face.
I got on my hands and knees and scrubbed those spots as best as I could with a bowl of sudsy water to rid his demonized marks out of my apartment. I put on a new jazz CD and I danced feeling baptized in freedom. I changed my drab sheets and put on my zebra print ones and I knocked on my neighbor Miss Fisher’s door and gave her all my lean Cuisine and South Beach frozen dinners because I suddenly felt like cooking with fresh vegetables from the nearby farmer’s market. Felt like roasting red green and yellow peppers, asparagus spears and carrots and zucchini and eating a big bowl of it with my fingers, like my preschoolers eat broccoli, which they call trees. Being in love makes you do crazy things. And I was in love, even though I knew nothing about this man except that he loved onion bagels.
The first month we were together I told Darius I loved him two hundred and 2 times. I kept note of it in my journal. Just like I kept note of his little nuances. How he chewed with his mouth open and how he rubbed his beard when he was worried and how many times he called his mother, just enough to let her know he hadn’t abandoned her and just enough to quell any feelings I had of him being a Mama’s boy.
“Why are you always watching me?” he asked one morning when he woke up and I was leaning on my elbows staring at him. “I don’t watch you, I study you.” I said. “Like a painting. I took an art history class once and had to study all of the masters, Rembrandt, Leonardo, Raphael. At first I couldn’t get into it. And then another student who I buddied with to trek around the city to the different museums told me she looked at not how the artists captured the essence of a scene but how they portrayed specific parts of the human physique. Art was sensual and when I studied painting looking more for the sensual details in the anatomy than the technical I no longer felt threatened by my task.”
I studied Darius like a painting. What was better was that I could touch him unlike the art I saw. I could let my fingers delineate his body at my leisure. Afterwards when he had risen and started doing whatever his day invited him to do, I could try to write a poem for him. Somehow though, I always crumpled up the sheets of paper I wrote on or wrote nonsense words like:
To feel tender affection for him
To feel romantic and sexual desire for him
To be drunk with passion for him
It's one year later…
Somehow I thought that if I put slanted script letters on sky blue paper my words would become like love tinged arrows and capture Darius’s heart. Now, as I try to give him this gift that I have wanted to give him from the day we met the words I want to write still play a game of aloofness. I try to excavate them from my spirit but they are like a pirate's buried treasure and remain under the deepest part of my creative sea.
The truth is I now see who he has become, who he has always been from that day I met him in the bagel shop and my words now despise him so much that they refuse to lie still so that I can write him a damn poem. They shiver and collapse at the sight of him. Darius is like Milton, my former roommate/lover. He shrugs his shoulders to anything I say and when he looks at me his eyes are blank. Our fall from grace or love whatever you want to call it began a few months after I asked Darius to move in with me. I didn’t realize how easy it was to be sickened by the smell of onion bagels on his breath each morning. I didn’t realize that he was indeed a Mama’s boy because when I refused to fix him Shepherds’ pie because my former roommate/lover Milton had told me what his brother called Shepherd’s pie when he was in the service and it sounded like something that should remain in a gas station toilet, I refused so he went to his mother’s house that same night and came back with two casseroles of the stuff, one to eat and one to freeze for future consumption. But what was worse was when I found out I had a lump in my breast and Darius told me nonchalantly that I needed to be courageous when I wanted, needed to wallow in depression for a while anyway, and have him lament by my side.
Everyone that was close to me knew that I would eventually snap out of it, even my doctor. Except him. Although Darius and I made love every other night, although we shopped for groceries together, and ate, legs crisscrossed on our plush chocolate couch, our first big purchase together; we really hadn’t crossed that threshold of really knowing each other. It was too late for a love poem. For him.
Instead I wrote nonsense, juvenile poems about my breasts.
I do not want to lose them
Perky 36 C’s
My breasts are only a fraction of me
I’ll miss them but I’d rather be alive.
My sister Chandra and friend Niko are giving me a party tonight against my wishes. It is at my apartment for they know I have refused to leave its sanctuary since I found out my diagnosis. I will show up in my pajamas in protest. Darius seemed more excited. He showered and shaved and put on a clean shirt and a pair of khakis. I hoped he also used a strong mouthwash to get the smell of onion bagels off his breath.
My sister Chandra has taken up baking since her preventive mastectomy. She corrects me whenever I call it that. “The medical term is prophylactic mastectomy,” she says. She is more serene now than ever before and more beautiful in spite of what has been done to her body. I envy her. Chandra says she loves making baby shower cakes the most because she loves creating cakes that celebrate a soon to be new life coming into the world, a baby in a mother’s womb. She made me a sheet cake, half chocolate, half vanilla for my party. And she and Niko chose a quote from Emily Dickinson that Niko wrote in calligraphy on rice paper and framed to give me. Chandra can not keep a secret so she tells me about my cake and gift beforehand. It says, “Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops…”
“Let’s not disappoint our guests tonight,” Darius said surprising me.
He has woken up from the dead.
“Let’s smile and eat Chandra’s cake and dance like we are in love.”
I frown. It is not good to end a relationship with lies. Tonight after my party I will tell Darius to leave. I wonder who he will call to collect him and his belongings.
“Wait,” he says. “I forgot we don’t have any food to serve.”
He surveyed our near empty refrigerator with wilting vegetables and pulled out something in the back of our freezer. I recognized the casserole dish. It was his mother’s Shepherd’s pie. Suddenly so angry I couldn’t contain myself, I took the dish and slammed it into the garbage can. My anger went beyond Darius and his mother and her unappetizing Shepherd’s pie. I was mad at this cancer that had invaded my body, mad enough to not let it take over my life. I was not going to just lie down and die and be its pitiful victim.
I went into my bedroom and threw on one of my long gypsy skirts and a blouse. I brushed the stray black wisps from my forehead and then announced. “I’m going to get some bagels for my party.” I knew I would get every kind but onion. I grabbed my keys and left my apartment for the first time in weeks as Darius stood in the middle of the kitchen floor looking dumbfounded. Once outside a cool breeze made my skirt dance and I synchronized my steps to be its gleeful partner. A love poem in motion.