“In Another Country”

Click here   to listen to Gail Mazur read this poem.

For months I perched on the surface of his life. I sat at his oak desk trying to write,
ate at his table, holding his fork in my right hand,turned the pages of one of the books,
then another, from his alphabetized shelves:Mandelstam. Merwin. Milosz.
O’Hara. Petrarch. Pound.Outside, no river, but there was a ship canal,
ships delivering or carrying oil away.The city smelled of oil natives didn’t smell,
the grass was coarse and spongy.There were many things I liked: his Saarinen chair,
the fanfare of school buses arriving across the street, the warm humid air, Spanish moss festooning
the live oaks everywhere, the white fossil granite his department’s building was made of—
exquisite whorls, the chambered nautilus scattered
over its 3 stories, precise impressions
of tiny ancient sea creatures I couldn’t identify … .I dressed in the dark, pulling my shoes out
from under his double bed, blind to their color,I went to his job, wearing one blue shoe, one maroon
(maroon for Houston, blue for distant Boston?)—my students thought it was the style somewhere,
it made them shy, they’d study my feet admiringly.Sometimes before sleep, I’d sit in the womb chair
his mother-in-law had left him, the color of beet soup;sometimes I lay in bed with his insomnia, listening
to the downstairs neighbor cough her irradiated lungs away.—But those shoes, the maroon and the blue:
as the joke goes, I had another pair, just like it, at home.