Staking a Claim

Erika Meitner

It seems that a certain fear underlies everything.
If I were to tell you something profound
it would be useless, as every single thing I know
is not timeless. I am particularly risk averse.

I choose someone else over me every time,
as I’m sure they’ll finish the task at hand,
which is to say that whatever is in front of us
will get done if I’m not in charge of it. 

There is a limit to the number of times
I can practice every single kind of mortification
(of the flesh?). I can turn toward you and say yes,
it was you in the poem.
 But when we met,

you were actually wearing a shirt, and the poem
wasn’t about you or your indecipherable tattoo. 
The poem is always about me, but that one time,
I was in love with the memory of my twenties

so I was, for a moment, in love with you
because you remind me of an approaching
subway brushing hair off my face with
its hot breath. Darkness. And then light,

the exact goldness of dawn fingering
that brick wall out my bedroom window
on Smith Street mornings when I’d wake
next to godknowswho but always someone
who wasn’t a mistake, because what kind
of mistakes are that twitchy and joyful
even if they’re woven with a particular
thread of regret: the guy who used

my toothbrush without asking,
I walked to the end of a pier with him,
would have walked off anywhere with him
until one day we both landed in California

when I was still young, and going West
meant taking a laptop and some clothes
in a hatchback and learning about produce.
I can turn toward you, whoever you are,

and say you are my lover simply because
I say you are, and that is, I realize,
a tautology, but this is my poem. I claim
nothing other than what I write, and even that,

I’d leave by the wayside, since the only thing
to pack would be the candlesticks, and
even those are burned through, thoroughly
replaceable. Who am I kidding? I don’t

own anything worth packing into anything.
We are cardboard boxes, you and I, stacked
nowhere near each other and humming
different tunes. It is too late to be writing this.

I am writing this to tell you something less
than neutral, which is to say I’m sorry. It was
never you. It was always you. I am announcing
your unutterable name, this growl in my throat.