“WE TELL STORIES” by Susan Hayden
Stories replace people and so the poem begins.
No one wins as the year nearly ends
and words fill in for bodies in the arc of the night
where, just days ago, the light in your eyes
–though relegated to pilot—
was directed by our constancy.
I’ve learned since then that a single heavy thread
won’t hold the hammock to the tree
and that you and me as jagged tapestry
could only be “us” when we shared the kind of honesty
that would at once bond and liberate.
Anything else: second-rate, imprisonment.
If I told someone our story the “easy” way,
I would say: It was a gift exchange.
I believed in your ability to soar and encouraged you
to be more.
You gave me permission to claim and fill the space,
face things head-on,
without trying to control in your man – role.
During those final talks
it was my intention to demolish all roadblocks
not knowing if it would set us free
or keep things intact.
Clearly I mistook our pact for coming clean
and staying current.
Now we tell stories,
file emotions in categories
and yet, how quickly we forget,
muscle memory is encoded; declarative.
This is my narrative, a shelter of sentences
to magnify the void between us where the truth must lie.
The truth must lie.
I will never comprehend the absolute end
of this love.
And how I’ve been pegged as too far above you
in size and scale, in place and time;
in terms of worthiness.
If I told someone our story the “hard” way,
I would say: Questions still remain
as we each maintain our silence.
Where did it go, the faith in the leap?
The hand that reached for mine in sleep?
I never planned to throw you a map toward a place
where you’d doubt the dreams you’d think
but didn’t speak.
You were the other side of my heart;
we spent half the week together.
And in the dark, skin on skin,
my back arched, me leaning in,
you’d whisper: “I’ve missed you.”
True, from our first night in that Mexican bar
we were star-crossed, lost in grief-recovery
and in the discovery of what Bruce Lee called
“a friendship caught on fire.”
I will forever admire your daring to think
you had a chance at me—and be right.
“Fight for this,” I would later insist
but your ideas were simplistic
and you didn’t even know what that meant.
So began our descent into class struggle,
unclear dreams, affluenza and loss–
the central themes in this autobiography:
a coin-toss of trust, willingness,
and then unwillingness to emerge.
Two lives converge, opposites attract,
contract, protract, until the epilogue–
where the differences outweigh.
“Out of my league,” were the very words
you’d say to describe me.
And now you are my story, the one where we both lose.
You don’t get to choose which version is true.
How I tell it is up to me.
How you tell it is up to you.
Just remember. There were times when I was under you.
And I do wonder about the vanish and dissolve,
the resolve into estrangement.
I could never have predicted that we would both mislead,
have to mind-read, and at last, bail-out
Stories replace people
but the telling is a shape-shifter:
You’re a black-hearted-grifter; a tenderloin steak.
the sweet spot of my life; a total mistake;
a sk8er boi with the half-devil/half-angel tattoo;
that stoner from high school who touched me and then said,
Good, bad, loved or hated,
depending on my mood or the day it’s related..
the listener would only know the parts I chose
I wouldn’t mention how you’d say,
“Relationships are temporary,”
something you told me early on,
when we each fell hard into the other’s soul,
making permanent imprints.
And that for you, close relations made finite stints –
creating this great divide, that lonely place
where you numb and hide the pain inside.
When you’d speak these truths you owned
about your past
and your deep belief that nothing lasts,
it was my misfortune to have not believed you
to believe I’d be the exception.
Now it’s perception I am left with,
which will be of my own making.
Partaking is what paves the path to where I am headed,
for I have not regretted a page of this.
I still have the faith in the leap
and yes, sometimes I reach for you in sleep,
but there’s a story in the bed now, not a man.
Where did you go?
Only you know.