April 19, 2010
"Dead Boyfriend Disco": A poem by Rebecca Rosenblum
My friend, the writer Rebecca Rosenblum, once wrote a poem just to see what would happen. When I read it first, I didn’t know her so well, and was sure it was based on true experience. “Imaginations run rampant,/ the romance of tragic”– I was afraid to become her friend because she was so wounded. I admired her bravery, her stoicism, and (as always) her way with character and story. When we were better friends, she told me she’d made the whole thing up. Apparently, it’s called fiction, and Rebecca is very, very good at it. This poem was previously published in echolocation and I appreciate her giving me permission to post it here.
Dead Boyfriend Disco
There are things that the dead don’t do—
desire, demand or debate—
but they dance if they feel it and
if you want you can watch,
if vicarious seems like your thing.
In teakettle steam and exhaust from the dryer and
fog on the windows they dance.
All these visuals that just barely are
bring the past for the partnerless waltz.
A little cigarette smoke and the
zydecco’s sliding for aunts who drank sherry out back.
Grandpas who disapproved,
in rivermist foxtrot like they did in the old days.
And then there’s that best of the specters,
The one that I wait for in dreams:
The dead boyfriend who does disco while I shower, in steam.
The thing about dancing is that you do it in twos,
and the thing about dying is that you go it alone.
So these dead that are dancing, they dance all alone, but
they’re moving to music for me.
A snuffed candle smoking invites smooth
smooth jazz, and Uncle Edwin who used to teach math.
And the dust from a pillow-fluff is the swing of Sarah,
a neighbour from when I was small.
I can’t dance with the dead, no more than could die,
but they need me to see them and
I never ask why.
I’ve been staying home Saturdays to breath on the mirror,
wanting to see him appear.
Late for work Monday morning
because the steam from my coffee made possible
just one more encore.
Coerced to a party, I stay for three drinks, but
smoking weed in the garden brings disco and tears.
The left-girlfriend can leave, and
no one will stay me, it’s the right of all us bereaved.
I can run from a friend, knock over the cheese-dip, and
no one will ever say boo.
I can leave without speaking,
all runny-eyed, rude, but
I know in my absence
they’ll talk of my sadness, because
everyone knows about his absence too.
In my wake at the wake, or parties, or dinner,
this fleeing girl with a dead boyfriend casts spells.
Imaginations run rampant,
the romance of tragic,
and they wonder what I’m doing now.
Boys will imagine, bosses believe, that
tragedy breeds something deep.
They picture us powerful, all us widows-of-maybe,
knowing things that they can’t know unearned.
Who would think that his dying would earn me some secrets?
All that I had was all that I wanted,
and most that I wanted was him.
To ski fast and dangerous or crack up the car, or
get something stuck in the blood—such was the destiny
of that boy of my heart and mine
is to leave when the dance music starts.
Yet there are a few victories for those with our histories,
you can’t always be the one who does not.
There are ways to go wrong with it and ways to get over it and
I’ve given those ways some thought.
The rum and the smoke and the sex of it,
all those boys who breathe easily,
seem like they might have what I want.
Once you’ve stopped writing home about dead boyfriends and agony,
you can go out and see what they’ve got.
I can think about strangers and drink up the drinks and
if there’s no candles it feels like romance.
Yet sometimes when flirting, a moment of
hurting for boys who are now corpses or worse.
The skin sinking slowly and the soil surrounding and
those bugs that can bite into bone. In the restaurant
smiling, I’m giving the pitches and ordering chicken but
in the background I’m thinking
of maggots and lichen and
the ways that a grave isn’t home.
So I escape once again, to go haunting curbside,
away from the puddles that spray out the blues.
Leave parties, leave restaurants, leave school, work and friends,
there’s no end for the need to escape.
I run home for a tear, for a tear in the stockings, for
a moment that felt less than fine. Everyone indulges,
the bosses with bravado, saying take care of yourself,
take your time.
All this time given freely, for me to enjoy,
this time in the bathtub while dressed.
An afternoon off and I hide on the tile, wondering
if this makes me obsessed.
I could run the water but then there’s the steam
and Sinatra and all of it makes me feel caught.
The Lindy Hop’s cute but I’ve got things to do, and
sometimes I’m too tired to watch.
So I stay dry and stay dirty, I make it a motto
of all ladies who got left behind. We are a club of girlfriends
who laugh at disaster and get called brave or strong or
snow cool. All of that flattering, somewhat but laughable—
it’s only ourselves that we set out to fool.
We are a club of ladies
with no love for each other,
because it takes one to know one who lies.
Lying and hiding his tapes from the seventies,
I go out alone, but when two
girlfriends meet then we know
that dead boyfriends are haunting us all.
And still we get on with it, buy shoes on their birthdays,
spike heels we know they’d have liked.
Wearing those heels, in the bathtub bone dry, we can talk
on the phone and from the safety of home, admit
that top-forty songs make us cry.
In the funeral bouquet I got a burlesque,
a masque play of dating done by grieving instead.
Roses in lieu of the boy that I loved, white roses instead of his red,
In lieu of that boy who had something bad in his heart or his car or his head.
White roses like silk, in vases on tables, waiting to wilt but
I’m stuck with roses with stamina forever,
it’s always the wrong things that last.
Although, if a vase should fall after a table is kicked,
the pollen that rises might tingle of tangos and other things missed.
This rageful vagueness that takes me makes me
do things only now forgivable. In embraces of boys
still living with girls I feel soft and sweet for
the hard candy meanness in me.
The wrath of waking up wet for a boy
so long underground knows no bounds I can see.
In the club with my hand on a thigh, in
the fizz of the gin that he bought, in
the thump and slide of bass, I flinch
at a shadow of specter and the dream of the disco,
but the other boy’s real and there’s no synth and no mist
so I can dance and flirt and get kissed.
So he’s not all that cute—I’m not all that sober and
want not the best but a rest.
A piranha pariah, they say it’s made me so bitter,
they say it and they’ll say again.
Dead boyfriend’s no license, but what about my sense
that I’ll never get to feel it again.
Dead boyfriend’s a period to sentence not spoken, and
I can’t say if it would’ve got better or worse.
I was still really too young to know what I wanted,
to be a wife or not quite or alone. My head on his chest or
his tongue in my ear or jam eaten straight from the jar.
And here I am missing his toenails, his watch,
and the soundtracks sung loud in the car.
It wasn’t an epic, that’s what makes it so tragic,
just over six months since we’d met.
Whatever I wanted, whatever I’d get,
No one told me I’d never get to forget.