Christopher Chambers


Out of the blue she asks me when was
Mardi Gras calculating how long
we've two been
to be blunt knocking boots some
weeks since February time's liquid
a lifetime

when I deliver her to the airport
for a weekend she slips me her key
just in case
the plane crashes or don't start I
& she informs me like it's news
we both are

going to die someday I will regret
not holding her longer making her
miss this flight
& she's left me fading here aging
with this bright key & a scrap of paper
engaged to death.



My girlfriend at the time did not share my fascination with second hand shops and flea markets. It was summer in New Orleans. Her favorite book was Bataille's Erotism. We passed a junk store on Airline Boulevard on our way to the airport. I dropped her off for her flight, and stopped at the junk shop on the way home. The man inside looked me over. I should tell you that I wore my hair short in those days. I was dressed in a black t-shirt, jeans, and boots. I can guess what you do for a living, he said; I'm quite good at it. I did not know how to respond to this. Here, he said. I'll write it down on this piece of paper. He wrote something on a page from a daily desk calendar. When you're ready to leave, you look and tell me if I'm right, he said. I browsed the store, and though I was tempted by the battered plaster statue of some unidentified saint, I walked to the counter empty handed. The man turned over the calendar page and slid it across the counter to me. Written on the back in a child-like scrawl: engaged in death. The poem started there, took shape in the obsessive syllabic form I was writing in those days, borrowed from John Berryman's Dream Songs (I'd been torturing syntax and abusing the line; I'd done away with punctuation). I told the junk man he was wrong about me, but I immediately felt unsure. I left feeling like a mortician with amnesia. I went home and read the book by Bataille, wrote things in the margins. I wish I had kept that piece of paper. I realize now that this is not the poem after all.