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By Leah Mueller
It's pride to say that you
never regret anything
but I'm sure if I ever went back
I'd avoid certain actions, like the time
I picked you up at a poetry reading
the night before my mother's funeral,
then followed you home
to your room, filled with guitars,
stuffed toys, and empty wine bottles.
So we emptied another bottle
and fucked on Muppet sheets, left over
from the teenage girl who used to live there
but had recently been sent to her dad's
because she had Problems. All of us did,
I was forty, and my mother had died
alone in a bed that didn't belong to her
just shy of seventy, finally unable to talk,
which killed her, I think,
more than anything else. You had recently
been sprung from jail, having
failed a Drugstore-Cowboy-style caper:
you wakened from your stupor
in a pile of broken glass and prescription bottles,
sprawled out on the floor of the Bisbee dime store
with all the alarms ringing. It was a town
that you never greeted until one in the afternoon,
then you staggered through the streets
with a dazed smirk on your face,
hawking your book to the tourists,
asking strange women if they liked to read.
You corrected me later when
I called it a novel, and said haughtily,
“It's NOT a novel. It's a MEMOIR.”
Only five years beforehand
Grove Press had published your tale
of being a junkie in Tucson during the late 70's.
You were off heroin now,
but very much attached to wine and Percosets
and your book was already out of print.
You were so mean to me,
and I never understood why-
especially our last night together,
when you finally broke down
and we had sex again, and after it ended
you quickly sat up and went to the bathroom,
came back out with a piece of toilet paper
wrapped around your dick, explaining
that since one of your testicles had accidentally
been removed by an incompetent doctor,
your penis dripped occasionally.
You said this casually, as if it didn't matter
what I thought about it, with a sort
of imperious air, and I was so infatuated with you
that I didn't mind. You told me
that you would be leaving in exactly an hour
and when I protested, looked at me directly
and said “You're used to getting
exactly what you want, aren't you?”
Many times I've regretted my response-
the look that must have come over my face
which was probably akin
to the expression of a pet who has been
suddenly and inexplicably clubbed by its owner,
but you completely ignored it, nodded
with satisfaction, then settled yourself
into my mother's bed with a weary sense
of obligation, combined with laziness.
For exactly one hour, you talked about yourself,
and the review of your book in “Spin” magazine,
your head stretched out on the pillow
as you recalled a glory that had only faded
a couple of years beforehand,
but now seemed as distant as tumbleweeds.
You actually looked at your watch
to make certain that exactly one hour had passed,
and after stopping briefly in the kitchen
to feed my mother's starving, half-wild cats
you went down the steep steps to the street
without looking back once.
Right before you left, you said,
“Good luck with your writing.
Remember to just write the way you talk.”
I thought of this many times
and wondered how you could possibly know,
since you never once listened to me.
One day, nine years later
I googled your name, and discovered
you had died only a week beforehand
from a highly invasive brain cancer-
attended to by a self-sacrificing woman
who thought you were a genius,
and she dutifully reported
that your biggest regret in life
was that you never made it to Tibet,
but you did manage to get out of Bisbee
and make it back to Tucson, at least.
The older I get, the more I think
I could have done without this particular experience,
but then I'm quite sure that I would do it all again-
this time I'd be the one
to walk away across the desert,
and you'd be forced to climb the mountain
in your rental car,
with no other option except to leave
and drive home all by yourself.