Monday, February 2, 2015

404 E. Spruce St. #1 (A Poem from the Eighties)

By Lisabet Sarai

(January 3, 1980)

We are both
climbing the walls.

After seven days
like animals caged
in this dingy little
basement room
          where at noon
          you still
          leave the lights
          on (yellow bulbs
          on the ceiling).

We are both
extremely polite.

We don't fight.
But you stake a claim
to whatever chair's
in the furthest corner
from where
I am.

And I find excuses
to stay in the shower
a little longer
to give you time
to reclaim the space
I've been calling mine
these seven days.

There is caring
between us,
sharing of words
and smoke and magic,
a liquid communion
of flesh
that leaves us 
awkward and breathless.

That just makes it worse;
we are never sure
where a casual touch
will lead. We need
and fear
the crazy 
our bodies kindle.

You sleep.
at last.
And I
here at your table
ponder this candle-lit
empty stage-set
where you and I
have played so much drama
this week that's passed.

At last
I can find
our separate threads
that tangle themselves
so completely in bed
or in playing Scrabble.
I see our pattern,
         loosely woven.

Two days
and I'll leave.
Your apartment will be
again your own.
you'll clean up the roaches,
finish my food,
find the sock
I'll undoubtedly leave
and probably miss me.
And meanwhile my car
with me at the wheel
will be winding the roads,
your sleepy smell
and the holes in your shirt.

Our time is for learning,
apart or together.
Our armored truce
in this cellar room
has taught me some tricks
to take on the road
till we meet again.


  1. Isn't it amazing how these small blocks of time loom so large in our memories. You illustrate the awkwardness of a relationship that's burned itself out, leaving us wondering if something as trivial as a bigger space would have made a difference.

    1. Hi, Daddy,

      I was curious to see how people would interpret this without any kind of introduction. This was one of those "we love each other but have really different expectations and styles" relationships. He was scared of his own sexuality and didn't want commitment. I was dazzled by his intelligence, intensity and Bohemian qualities. I've written before the attraction of the "dark poet" type - that was him.

  2. Sex is so powerful that when consumed by it's initial flames, we tend to ignore anything the might suggest that the flame will die out quickly. When it does, there is confusion, along with a sense of betrayal. We all look for the love that will last, most of us with absolutely no idea how to find it. We look with our hormones and our gonads, without realizing that all they find for us is the hot flame. The very lucky among us, realize when the flame doesn't die out but merely changes into something that ebbs and flows, that we have finally found our eternal flame...the one that will warm us into old age.

    I love your use of imagery that places the reader in that dingy basement apartment, and that encourages a remembering of one's own flings, those ephemeral, magical nights that threatened to consume us, but merely left us hungry for more conquests. I can smell former lovers' "sleepy smells", and remember the quirks I found attractive at first, then annoying, until finally they were the nails in the coffin of the fling. And from all of them, I, too, learned tricks that I took with me. I hope they remember me with that same detached fondness.

    Thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed experiencing it

    1. Hi, Fiona,

      He and I really had "chemistry". Which made some of our differences very awkward.

      Glad you enjoyed it.

      I had to really sit on myself not to edit it before posting. If it really was to be a snapshot from the eighties, I felt I shouldn't change it.

    2. I should say, btw, that many aspects of D.'s character, as well as this basement room, have found their way into my stories.

  3. I'm not surprised that someone about whom you have such unresolved feelings, would creep into your writing. I'm always amused when people will ask me to put them into one of my books...a couple of ex-lovers have asked. I try to explain to them that my muse doesn't do "requests". I'm not writing an autobiography here. I write fiction. If I happen to include something from my past, like you said, it's an aspect of a person, or a scene, or a conversation. Never an entire interlude.

    And the only man I offer homage to is my husband, whose loving nature has allowed me to become the person I am today. He's in every hero I write.

    1. "My Muse doesn't do requests." Great line! D would probably be appalled if he knew he'd featured in my dirty stories. He was very conflicted about sex.

  4. The claustrophobic effect of the way you write about the "dingy little basement room" makes one wonder whether any relationship could have survived the circumstances, although it's just as possible that the fading of the relationship was what made the setting feel claustrophobic. So many layers of possibilities in so few words! Beautifully done,

  5. Lisabet, I so admire the bravery of posting a thirty-year-old poem without succumbing to the temptation to edit it. That would be hard for me, and yet, as you say, for it to be a true snapshot, it needs to be done that way. In the poem, I see a lot of the writer you've become--the unapologetic sensuality, the depth, the romantic sensibility that isn't afraid to see romance from all sides. And it's an incredible view into the past.

    I try not to let my ex-lovers get into my stories, but they do sometimes anyway. I feel a bit bad when I recognize them, or when I give in and straight out write about them.

    1. I always had the sense, when I was writing poetry (which I hardly do at all now, except when challenged by Ashley Lister on the ERWA blog), that I shouldn't meddle with it once I had it written down. For me poetry was a spontaneous capture of a moment's emotion. Editing it later - even to improve it from a literary perspective - would have diluted or adulterated the original feeling.

      Of course, now I'm a published author and editor, so it's much harder to keep my hands off!


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