I ask when you and I talk on the phone.
We skirt around the blast hole in your memory:
your stroke and aphasia left a singed edge.
As you talk around that burnt gorge
a gouge of thirty-two yearsyou can recall
a thing or two about the distant past.
"Do you remember her?"
I find myself whispering.
"The art student, and my friend
for as long as I've known you?"
("I never envy great artists,"
Katie whispered, as we drank
Gavi di Gavi on her screened-in porch
trying to keep quietin case
hummingbirds visited the feeder.
"It's the trendy ones who make me jealous.
For artists who move me, I feel only love.")
"Let me remind you: Katie's the one
whose boyfriend I fell in love with
and almost leapt into the gorge with,
("Don't disturb possible hummingbirds!"
Katie whispered on the porch where,
mournfully, we talked about other avians,
the Red-winged Blackbirds of our childhood:
how we toddled out importantly
with bread crusts in our hands and
tossed them to the multitudes
nervously flocking around.)
"and the boyfriend became
a therapist, certainly not as good
as you were, before..."
(Last summer Katie saw no Red-wings,
but I spied one on the way to her farmhouse
among her great old trees. "I intend to die
in this house, but," she said, "if something
happens to my trees, I'll have to move."
That one Red-wing I saw, was it as lonely
in its rarity as I assumed? Or not, as Katie said,
"It just knows the world it was born in.)
Yes, when you and I talk on the phone now,
I feel a thrilling red patch.
"They take me to the park every day,"
you tell me. "And they take me...
what's the word?"
The burnt edge of the memory gorge
you have to make a path around
starts to crumbledon't fall in!
with the things on the walls..."
"Yes! Museum." Red word.
"All I want to do is go away and paint
just like I did as a girl."
(When I told Katie the whole story
of your aphasia, she whispered,
"That is like my trees dying
and having to move...")
Unlike the Red-wing, you know more
than the world you were reborn in:
"I can't be your therapist ever again,"
you repeat to me.
I still can't help whispering,
"I thought I'd never hear your voice again."
("If someone chain-sawed my big trees,
I could never paint the stumps like those
fancy-asses who draw them just for the design..."
Katie murmured as we knocked off
the rest of the wine.)
Your low tone of realism sets in:
"I might never get back to Italy to paint.
But I'm working really hard."
(Then Katie and I heard
the low buzz of a hummingbird.)