Seven to Life

Why did I stay? His hands, like carved white pine,
touched my swollen face, and it was better

than no touch at all. It was never good.
The day we met, I chased a starling from my window

to the open air, it left small black feathers
pasted on the frame. We had both read Dostoevsky,

both suffered beatings from those that we adored,
and didn't we believe that suffering purifies

the soul? North country winters kill all that's weak
and inessential --- split limbs of tamaracks, warblers

that put off leaving until the first big snow.
I don't believe it now, but then, suffering

was the only door out of the dinginess of wanting,
out of a life as empty as a hollowed-out t.v.

And today, if I were to open that door, he’d be there,
the one face that never fades.

The one face I never want to see again.
I meant to leave him, asleep in a wooden room,

I was wearing bad shoes, too skimpy for the walk
across the frozen Kennebec to the next town. I stayed

with friends, rolled in a red sleeping bag
on a linoleum floor, but I was bad luck, no fun,

always in the way. He tracked me down, and cried.
I meant to leave.

* * *

Rail tracks run along the river, the river-road,
the throat, the vein, all passageways that must have

destinations. I meant to travel, got hung up
on the whistle stops along the way. Fields

of daffodils, too golden to bear, their heads nodding
as mine did above a red kitchen table,

and a glassine bag, holding one more dose,
labeled “7 - 2 -Life.” A dealer's idea of poetry.

A prison term. A destiny. Till death do us part.
Glassine, so smooth, sounding like a stream

I could slip away on. I meant to leave him dead
in that apartment, with all the bills,

the rented furniture, the borrowed Navy blanket
covering our stained bed, stenciled "U. S.,”

us, a bad joke. I did get out. I poured
oblivion down all my body's rivers.

I forgot how to stay.

* * *

Still, my guts hold an appetite for drama,
for a man who'll lift me by my shoulders,

kiss my breasts one moment, slam me
up against a wall the next, wailing he knows

another man has touched me, then get on his knees
to beg forgiveness. I've carried

this craving from town to town, this lust
for pain and touch to make my life feel real,

this habit harder to kick than the dope.
It's time to clean up my hand. I keep going out,

climbing the trail that crawls up
the mountainside from my cabin. Sometimes,

an eagle and a flock of ravens circle the peak,
fighting their little wars. They swoop and scream

and tear at one another. Like what I remember
lovers to be. I always want to leave,

but if the eagle's white tail is backlit
by the sun, there's eerie grace in their battling

in the lonely air: they are the only life, relief
from the emptiness of heaven,

so I stay. They make prey of each other,
dripping their blood and fluff down the ridge fissures,

where it mixes with the springmelt
that rushes now, too, toward riverbeds

etched like veins in the granite
of the valley floor. I meant to leave it all,

stranded high up on the bank, in fragments
left for dead, forgetting.

Michele Leavitt is a former trial attorney who now teaches
in The Writing Program at the University of North Florida.
Her poems and essays have been published in a variety of
journals and anthologies, including Rattapallax, The
NeoVictorian/Cochlea, Slant, Sojourner, The Humanist,
Wind, The Ledge, Yellow Silk II: International Erotic
Stories and Poems, Asheville Poetry Review, The Edge
City Review, and THEMA.

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