RIP, Joan Didion + #OldPoem: “Salut” (2004)

Joan Didion. I don’t know how it’s possible that I don’t know more about you, because every time I see part of something you’ve written, it slaps me around some in a way I find welcoming. It must have been a combination of rebellion and exhaustion: too many assignments, too many unwanted recommendations and feelings of obligation and overwhelm over the years. But now that it’s just you and me, standing in the spotlight of your recent death, I have a feeling I will finally delve into you properly.

I could have sworn I wrote a paper that alluded to something you wrote, and stored it in my trunk. But since a recent paring down, I cannot find it. So I gather I threw it away. Pity that. It probably would have meant something to me right now.

I am starting to reckon with a few things lately. I am approaching something called “middle age” (hell, I’ve probably been in it for awhile, but I’ve declined to see it that way). I am someone who likes to think that I can skip at least some of the phases of grief, before ultimately discovering that this is impossible. I miss long-gone versions of certain people – though I suspect that this would hurt less if I were more self-secure.

Anyway, Joan. I’ll see you around. Thanks for this, which I never read before tonight:

Also, this, which – muah.

In other news: I’d meant to start publishing more of my old poems here, but I kind of fell off. So here’s one.

(to A.)

You're the only orange-haired boy
I've ever respected,
on Graduation Day
you sat beside me on the platform,
elevated by grades
second only to mine. 
Folks said my speech was more creative,
yours more commercial. 
Our conversation:
fingers thrust in ribs. "Don't trip,"
"You missed a spot,"
I think you're wrong."
I was steel-jawed Republican,
you honey-tongued Democrat,
called Bill Clinton a Mac Daddy,
carried a Red Party card.
One day B. asked me,
"You know A. flirts with you,
don'cha?" I said no,
because I hadn't noticed.
You and your friends
never asked me out,
just called me Mistress
of Poetry and calculated my GPA
more often than your own. 
So how was I to know?
You dated girls with voices
that brushed the skin like feathers.
I wore combat boots with hearts
on the soles.  When I told you 
I'd chosen a single-sex school, 
you asked if I liked chicks. So
how was I to know?

Now we're in our twenties,
another graduation. I run into your friend
who's working office supply at Christmas.
He tells me you'd been wondering
what became of me.  I decide to appease
your morbid curiosity. On New Year's Eve, 
I write you a letter in juicy black pen.
I remember how, in our clamoring
to be called on first, to use larger words,
we'd found each other untouchable;
you'd probably loved my poetry
because it was the single proof
that blood shot through my veins
instead of gasoline. Remembering this, 
I let there be scratch-outs and ink blots,
tell you I'm writing at exactly 1:37 a.m. 
while playing the Beatles' White album. 
I'm even tempted to tell you
what I'm wearing, not to turn you on,
simply to let you know that I, too, 
wear clothes (but I refrain from this).
Once you'd signed my yearbook:
"May you continue your quest
for literary domination, and have fun
doing whatever it is you do
over the summer." As if I dragged myself, 
dark-cloaked, down into some manhole, 
too inhuman to enjoy biking
down plummeting hills, or the way food tastes 
chased with a gulp of fresh air.
I confess
I wish I'd told you more vehemently
how I'd admired you.

Four weeks later,
your answer comes. It is typewritten,
like a business proposal. Complete with a
signature block. You say you'll be a lawyer,
that you've been reading a lot, that my major
has no doubt required me to do the same,
and I should try Atlas Shrugged
if I haven't already. At the very least I should find it
intriguing. You're working two jobs
to pay for your new apartment. Sometimes I think 
I sense in your words
a swell of heat (you say my mind is one of those
you respect the most),
but each time a measured "It is"
instead of an "it's"
squelches the glow. My friends guess
perhaps you're engaged and feel
you cannot be too careful - and you do want
to be a lawyer, after all. Perhaps it's the jargon
you've been poring over. Then, swapping
commiserate smiles, they suggest
you're still afraid to let your guard down
around me, that you want to be at your best
before my eyes, that you thought you had
to use grammar-and-spell-check lest I lay
the smackdown on you. 
Something in my chest
stings. I want to scream 
Holy bloody hell I just crawled
under yellow warning tape to get in
a side entrance   I slept through
this morning's business class   I cried
during the gondola scene in My Best
Friend's Wedding and I don't have twelve
poems finished today because I couldn't
haul myself out of someone's arms 

                           -February 3, 2004

It just feels right to close these with a song sometimes. Here is the one I choose tonight.

Old friends I never visit, will I remember what they’re like?
Standing on a doorstep full of nervous butterflies
Waiting to be asked to come inside
Just come inside


So pleased with the daydream
That now living’s no good
I took off my shoes and walked into the woods
I felt lost and found with every step I took

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