Chasing the Ex
Today I ran into an earlier wife.
Twenty years of life had passed
since we escaped a marriage
that could not survive even one.
She began, to me, as a person of interest,
who later became my first responder.
We recognized each other only barely,
standing on the outer rim
of a bookstore talk.
And, fittingly, exchanged few words
Yet the clatter went on inside my head.
I was, back in our day, fascinated by the way
she wrote messages in lipstick
on mirrors or countertops
before she left for work,
perfumed words barely
once removed from her lips,
that smeared themselves into my skin
when I tried to wipe them off.
Whether “wash my car”
or “take me away again.”
There were times back then
when she smiled at me
and the world went quiet.
Then came the end,
when we moved to motions of a lesser love.
And once bright lips became laden clouds,
high and low, that parted one day to say
“I no longer feel amazing.”
And to herself she sighed
“I have brighter days ahead.”
By which, unsympathetically,
I thought she meant to become
more intelligent somehow.
Finally, I recalled being kissed awake.
About her I also remembered that,
and not since our lips parted
have I awoken in that state.
Now my life has less surprises:
except my shoes,
solemates that hide themselves at night
and I find again to start each day.
After I turned off the light,
I stewed in her juices
for the rest of the night
admitting, at dawn
and years too late,
the possibility of making a mistake,
that what I was and what I became
were not the same,
and old enough now to see
no lights from days up ahead
shining even half as bright
as those in her I used to see.
It was the married daughter, who posted my picture in an online dating site for older Christian widows and widowers.
Reminding me that the death of a partner is not the end of things loved now lost, but the beginning
of all familiar land slipping away.
Like unwanted efforts to pair you with other old survivors,
first dressing you like a favored doll, then inviting others to the tea party, arriving in their own baffling remnants.
And for what? The moment we see each other unclothed and barely recognizable as something once good; a naked joke?
These are dried dates of inhospitable climes.
Bobbing for love in the Dead Sea, lying down in parched pastures.
In the dark I’m squinting at a full screen of widows inside Windows, of people looking for partners,
like a school yearbook of aging ingénues, with the faces of once promising students gone dull,
now permanently held back here,
first for one year, then two,
or twenty-five and fifty more.
These are the backsides of half-lives, begun, lived, and set aside. On this night I will pick no partner, and switch the screen to black.
I breathe in. I breathe out. I am OK in our sleepy house,
hushed now and sweetened still by old shed skin and
fragrant settled memory dust.
The Frere Jacques Men’s Chorus
The first practice lasted two hours,
during which we learned French words and pronunciations
in a language we did not comprehend.
And there is where I found my purpose,
the moment at which sounds and syllables
became rhythms devoid of meaning to English ears,
transform to chants,
transporting us from a church basement
to a madrassa in Afghanistan
where students memorize the Koran by heart
never knowing what it means.
We make a choir,
rock in unison to the beat
of another purpose altogether.
Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers.
For some who have done this have entertained angels
without realizing it.
Hebrews 13: 1-2
Angels dressed as passengers wearing blankets,
having overcome the broken wings,
are the ones still ascending.
While below, all the insides of their earthbound lives
have exploded like fumbled melons,
open and giving back seeds
of ambition and troubled love
mixed with ash and dust of bone
still floating to earth without urgency,
in a measured sifting
along long earth gashes,
mass graves slowly filling
under hushed cold-night stars.
To My Students (Frustrated with learning English as a Second Language)
I should not be teaching this class,
a subject without beginnings, middles or ends;
a mother tongue which I don’t understand.
Though so far I’ve given answers back
to all the tricky questions asked:
Y is both a letter (no, not the kind that you can mail) and a question. Next.
Yes, all the days in the week do have names, but No, the one after Saturday is not pronounced “Someday.” Next.
No, a smart man and a wise guy are not the same things. Next.
No, angina pain is not restricted to women. Next.
Why do some people call liking something “taking a cotton to it”?
This is unanswerable. Next.
There is no such thing as a Grey Wall of China. Doesn’t exist. Ask your Asian classmates.
But feeling bewildered, and wanting something to hold onto, I understand.
I refer those to the Catalogue Course Description:
You’re in a big country in which native speaking people make a living
on TV explaining what other native speaking people are saying.
Almost no one understands anybody.
So in the end you will find your way into English alone.
You will learn to listen, speak and imitate.
These three things, above all else, will help you
find a job, disguise your soul, assimilate.
Michael Maul resides in Bradenton, Florida near Sarasota Bay. His poems have appeared in numerous literary publications and anthologies worldwide.
Michael is a past winner of the Mercantile Library Prize for Fiction. He has participated in a live readings series sponsored by Bookstore 1, which presents work by the best of Sarasota-based poets during National Poetry Week, and as a Fray Day presenter, at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky.
Michael is a graduate of the Ohio University creative writing program, where he earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees. He later taught creative writing as a full-time faculty member at The Columbus College of Art and Design, in Columbus Ohio.
Chasing the Ex appeared in Linden Avenue; Dried Dates in Big River Poetry Review; Flight MH17 and To My Students in Vine Leaves.
To read more of Michael, click here.