“To an Old Lover”
by Rachel Mennies
I keep a Polaroid on my writing desk of my mother
kissing my father, pregnant with me.
That was the last moment I felt no fear.
That was the last moment I felt no joy.
—I’m practicing, like I promised.
The bridge beside my new apartment is lower to the ground.
I once thought that my pain made me smarter, that it brought me the world honestly.
Brought me, honest, into the world.
For who could laugh here—who could sleep—except with their eyes closed?
I know what you would say: We are here to laugh, beloved. We are meant to sleep without vigilance until dawn.
I hear Sartre respond behind you: I have led a toothless life. I have never bitten into anything.
I was reserving myself for later on, and I have just noticed that my teeth have gone.
—I promise I’ll walk the red-leafed neighborhood, pick up the new prescription:
a blue tarp, hung two feet below the bridge.
I will touch myself to no end but to feel.
I do all this for you, who once loved me, so that I might someday do it for myself.
The body in the photograph’s belly turned, at some point, toward the sound.
These two poems come from what is, right now, the outline of a new poetry collection, one whose speaker feels trapped in a future—or futures—conjured by her brain. They’re two of the first poems I wrote after the lockdown year, during which time I wrote basically nothing.
I wrote “To an Old Lover” as a sort-of writing prompt while trying to retrain my writing brain back into resilience, after a year of fog and entropy. (This is very much still a work-in-process task.) I imagined the “old lover” as being not unlike the main figure from my last big writing project, the "you," Naomi, from The Naomi Letters; stuck at the writing desk, I thought All these years later, what else might you say to her? and then I got to updating her.
I can feel the fear in these poems, but also a dogged resoluteness: return, return, return to the world.
Rachel Mennies is the author of the poetry collections The Naomi Letters; The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, the 2014 winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry at Texas Tech University Press and finalist for a National Jewish Book Award; and No Silence in the Fields, a chapbook from Blue Hour Press. Her poetry has recently appeared at The Believer, Kenyon Review, The American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Her essays, criticism, and other articles have appeared, or will soon, at The Millions, the Poetry Foundation, Lit Hub, and numerous other outlets.