“What I Did Wrong” by Marie Howe

Slapped the man’s face, then slapped it again,

broke the plate, broke the glass, pushed the cat

from the couch with my feet. Let the baby

cry too long, then shook him,

let the man walk, let the girl down,

wouldn’t talk, then talked too long,

lied when there was no need

and stole what others had, and never

told the secret that kept me apart from them.

Years holding on to a rope

that wasn’t there, always sorry

righteous and wrong. Who would

follow that young woman down the narrow hallway?

Who would call her name until she turns?

 

Copyright © 2017 by Marie Howe. From Magdalene​ (W. W. Norton, 2017).

“What the Living Do” by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

~ Marie Howe, “What the Living Do” from What the Living Do (interview with NPR.org)

“The Gate” by Marie Howe

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

Marie Howe, via On Being

This week of Words is being hosted by Ms. Myriam Joseph Loeschen. We hope you are enjoying her inspiring and transformative selections. Thank you, Myriam, for supporting and joining us this week and, of course, for the beautiful Words. ~ Christy

“My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe

I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling—whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were —
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

“My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe, from What the Living Do. © W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.

“Part of Eve’s Discussion” by Marie Howe

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment when rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.

~Marie Howe