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An Attempt at Epistolary
Or, After You Return to Your Ex-Wife

How is your bed without me?

How soon you’re a stranger . . .
           Stranger, isn’t it, to be back
At home with her, where

All the tongues are native?
           Where idiom becomes cliché?
Set your watch for Saturday.

How soon your hands find
           Nothing in her garden
To pluck but weeds.

Just how is your life? 

Are you beside yourself,
           Beside her asleep
Instead of me awake, and

How’s the hive, that suburb
           Of white boxes, one of them
Yours with its usual queen?

What’s it like to be overbred and
           Overfed by workers? 
How’s sex now, in that ordinary series

Of hexagon, hexagon,
           Hexagon?  What’s it like
Again, dearest, to be a drone?

What do you do, poor man?

How do you breathe now
           Without the skein of my hair
Against your face?

How is your life unscented?
           (You told me everything smelled
Like me, of my skin’s surfeit

Of every fruit you love,
           Especially blackberries. Do you
Recall the meadow, the getting

Of that sweetest fruit, not without
           Its stings and scratches, its penance
And its promises of ripe?)

How is it, sugar, in a life without stigmata?

What’s it like in those temperate
           Climes, sweetheart,
Never feeling the floor

Because you can always
           Wait for the bed?
Are the sheets ever rumpled?

Do buttons stay on your
           Shirt?  (If you find one undone,
Another missing, I’ve taken it.

I worry the shank
           Of it like a rosary bead
Between finger and thumb.

I carry it like a souvenir,
           A foreign coin in the pocket
Of my Levis).

How is it, beloved, to be living in a postcard?

Are you having a wonderful time?
           Are you wishing I was there?
How’s your life as tourist

Instead of traveler? Do you burnish
           Her clavicles with kisses?
(Do you love her?)

Does she touch you there?
           Here?  Do you laugh?
Does she ever open her eyes?

Do you still say my name three times?

How do you sleep without
           The runes of the ice machine,
Without champagne fizzing

In plastic tumblers?  Do you
           Think of Jacob’s ladder
Whenever you see Venetian

Blinds, all the light in rungs?
           Do you remember we broke
Every slat on the bed?

Do you recall all that going and coming?

How’s kissing when it doesn’t
           Make you drop your keys, need
To circle back?  What else but her

Lifeline rests in the palm of her
           Hand?  How’s it
Going, with a woman who always

Whispers Not tonight, who’ll never
           Hiss Like this, like this?
Are you happy in a bedroom

Lit by only the closet bulb?  Are
           You each moths, cocooned
In quilts?  What it’s like at first light?

Has she written you an aubade?

Dull, isn’t it, with horse always
           Before cart?  The nag
Who’s led to water, who never

Thinks to drink? As for you, dear,
           Aren’t you’re up to your axles
In rutless ruts, aren’t you enmired?

Do you find her nipples interesting
           As radio dials? Do you twist
Them by rote? Do you remind

Yourself how it was, not to work
           At it, that summer when
Someone opened just for you?

How is your bed without me?  

NOTE:  This poem is an homage to, and uses phrases from, Marina Tsvetaeva’s “An Attempt at Jealousy,” translated by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine, which originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Poetry.


Pamela Johnson Parker’s poems and prose have appeared in Anti-, Iron Horse, Alligator Juniper, Poets and Artists, Caesura, and Spaces. A medical editor and instructor of creative writing, she lives in west Kentucky and is currently revising her first novel.