The Love Letter

Suddenly his lungs
and the two soiled pillows that he’d hugged to him
forced him up through black ice to the surface
where his body had found the way.
Those smoked-out pockets of bad breath
woke him, gasping, flexing, from a wet dream
into Atlantis and street lights just after dawn.
His wife rolled over and over
in the eddies of lighter sleep,
one large breast floating free.
He covered her, had a cold bath
after shaving his stiff jaws purple and soft,
and having breakfasted, shouldered the flat mailbag —
for this was the mailman —
and hunchbacked, jackknifed like a diver, he went off.
A day like any other.
The dawn was a screeching fingernail of light
he heard and the dogs heard. The day would be
a crisscross of streets like electroshock —
streets, one on top of another, that didn’t come out right,
unfolding like a carpenter’s rule, a foot at a time,
or hovered like Chinese bridges over moon mists of snow,
floating between their street lamps’ nearsighted halos.
The sky was an oyster shell seen from inside,
silvery and silver-polish-gray and pink rinses of nylon
brought out by the crack of light.
The world was his oyster, clenched, clammy, and gray.
And all this while, a thousand miles away,
at the end of a rope
either end of which frayed into dismal streets
the girl idled in the blond and syrupy doldrums of her sleep.
Sleep curled around her
like the mouth around a child’s finger. . . while her Levy, the other man in her life,
a thousand miles away from her, was waking.
— Had he come in from the snow to this warm, dim hallway?
A muffled telephone from somewhere went ringing
with the heat through his ears and fingers —
but was it his? He’d never reach it, so he paused,
and drowsing right there, dreamed in his dream
he’d rush into his room in time
only to hear the telephone, far off, still bleating.
He was in the hall, the phone rang on and on.
Then he woke up, he dreamed, and there was the mailman
already hours at work.

If now he was awake, he’d had no sleep.
Tired or scared, wide-eyed like a widower
or a man back from his second honeymoon
stretched out in his half of the double bed,
his thoughts were elsewhere or nowhere. . . .

Oh Michael, Oh lover —
If only the letter would come and tell her,
“Despite all, when you’re away I want you here.”
He had approached her in her dream,
and her nipples had risen to greet him,
her eyes, behind their closed lids
swiveling with her breasts, had bloomed for the asking.
The circuited clouds of her brain had drawn lightning
from the road fork’s fountain, burning the grass there a darker green.
And when the star burst, it was cream blossoming
in the bitterest coffee, light was ebbing
into nothingness but not vanishing fast enough
to go out, a man on fire outrunning his flames
to death and becoming his own mellowed darkness.
It was another atmosphere, nothing could be airier,
more bemused — only this death’s twin death
could be less feminine.
She had become almost no one. . . .

But there was something.
Levy, behind the back of his hand, looked again.
Something outside seemed to be growing forward.
Like a god who pours into the shape of his motion,
this was overtaking the sidewalk’s dreamless walk
across his window’s quiet snowblind focus, a milky half-moon of plasma, either a god or a ghost,
and even the spitz next door just whined and dawdled
and nosed the ground, circling behind on its three legs.
He looked again.

Past where the snowy tree ramified
like the lungs’ capillaries in a negative,
past the gutter’s underworld silence and steam,
he saw the eye sockets and the cap, the buttons
and a uniform, all gray — fat hips,
and shoes like mastiffs to keep the slushy miles off,
the rat weather, the gray dawn.
It was the mailman, talking to himself.

— Millions of him, and each talks to himself,
and when a blue twig prickles an icy March window,
who’ll jaw about spring with a mailman,
with relatives dying? Michael was thinking —

when he remembered. Then he remembered,
he dashed out, his alarm clock still in another world.
His shirt flapped like a gull, his eyes were streaming.
He had the letter in his hand.

Both were breathing hard,
the barely smiling mailman,
and the Jew,
barely out of the wandering hallway,
and already caressing his lips with thoughtful fingers.

Their white breaths scuffled like fists,
blow for blow, as if to say:
“I try to get out. I dream. I soar from the deck,
knees locked — a Hart Crane, a heart thrown in the sea.
But my witnesses haven’t even seen me.”

The mailman took the letter —
only at each step, under his broad chest
his lungs, as under a sidewalk, shook
like an unrecovered bomb, menacing everyone.

The boy went back to sleep.
The girl was a thousand miles away.