She was all about morning light and lost causes.
Had she been born fifty years before,
she’s have taken up arms in the Spanish Civil war.
But her window looked out on discrimination.
And battered wives. And raids on gay bars.
And kids handed rifles and pointed toward the jungle.
She marched more than some armies
but with placards not weaponry.
And she paid for that more than once –
a blackjack across the skull for example,
or a family that just stopped speaking to her.
She was shot at in the South once.
The redneck missed but she figured next time,
she wouldn’t be so lucky.
But she was lucky.
At least, as much as a woman who lived in
a low-rent flea-trap in the Bronx
could be said to live in sight of fortune’s smile.
She volunteered in foodbanks,
found shelter for the homeless,
read poetry to inmates,
some of it her own.
She never saw herself as a saint.
Just someone who rose to that morning light.
no matter where the darkness had taken her.
She never married. Nor did she have children.
Her long hair went silver in her thirties.
And then, when AIDS came for her friends,
she tended the dying, accosted the indifferent.
Maggie died in ’93, unreported by the newspapers.
The news even took its time getting out to the ones who knew her.
She’d become more of a hermit by then.
Her health was failing. Her spirit was like a purse
down to its last few grubby pennies.
I like to think that, even in the end,
she kept abreast of the light of the new day.
But then I always like to think.
Maggie liked to do.
ISABELLE Page One
Fourteen guys you dated.
The first at fifteen,
the last at twenty-five.
One reminded you of your father.
He wasn’t the one you married.
You figure ‘dated’ for an odd kind of word.
Did a movie with friends count?
What about an accidental meeting in a coffee shop?
Will was handsome.
The competition got too fierce,
Dan was cheerful.
That got obnoxious after a while.
You were with Paul for over a year
so the details squeeze together
but you do remember how
there was this kind of acceptance
that he was the one
you’d be spending the rest of your life with
but that fizzled.
And there was Frank.
He really had the mean gene.
Fourteen guys it was.
And surely, they all left some kind
of a mark on you.
None a bruise, thankfully.
But a place in the heart –
even for Joshua
who’s now in an institution.
You could see that coming.
His kisses always felt like symptoms.
Jerry is the one you finally said yes to.
He was the second to ask that question.
Strangely, the two of you didn’t date all that much.
You just hung together.
Neither had much money.
That seemed the cheapest way to honor the arrangement.
ISABELLE Page Two
And marriage was just hanging
at a whole other level.
You ate out from time to time
but only because the two of you were hungry
and neither felt like cooking.
And you went out to the movies together.
But that was before the neighborhood was wired for cable.
Maybe that was the problem
with thirteen of the fourteen.
They had no idea how to just be some place.
You’ve been together twenty years now.
You’ve worked. You’ve traveled.
You’ve had kids. And, of course, your own home.
If it really is a date, then it sure is a long one.
If you’re still just chilling
then you have redefined the word.
No point in further discussions.
The slopes before us will not hear of it.
And the peak itself points the way,
to inspire, to intimidate, or both.
We are not heroes. Not particularly smart.
But, unlike most dreams, ours take shape.
They rise up before us on the path we’ve taken.
No way we could ever turn around.
Here in the mountains, words know their place.
And so, does normal, from blinding ice glint
to the rumble of distant avalanches
and that stomach-punch of a drop below.
And the rocks’ chilling faces
are out-ogred by the creeping clouds
and a pure-white goat steps lightly up an incline,
grandstanding while we step shakily.
In the village, we were warned of
sudden weather shifts, told of those
who never returned. Even at lower levels,
there is no small talk.
But here we are, having settled our
affairs, triple-kissed our loved ones,
calmed their fears with our excitement,
and have struggled halfway toward the summit.
And in the mountains, there is nothing
we can say to each other. We just go on.
We know what we have set out to do.
Dangerous yes but, as ever, in our best interests.
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