Brittany Perham

Double Portrait

Everyone’s writing poems for the dead,
those who have gone
missing, those who have gone.
Everyone’s writing poems for the dead

even without meaning to, even unwillingly
we crack the brain’s backdoor
for children, for lovers, who set their door
swinging, who come back, even unwillingly,

to tell us something we think we hear
in her singular smoker’s voice,
when lately we believed in no voice
but our own. We think we hear

her beside us in the kitchen
lifting our hair—see how we’ve brought
her home! see how she’s brought
her cigarette. We breathe in. The kitchen

after this is predictably dark.
Already the visitation is a memory,
already we suspect visitation is only memory
lighting the film in the chamber’s dark.

It’s certainly a flash in our particular brain
that captures our particular other,
her hippocampal polaroid exposed, no other
way to certainly find her. Our painbrain

recalled her, momentarily, exactly.
For a second she was more ours
than she ever really was, entirely ours.
We go on recalling her consciously, inexactly,

to keep her from going again, she who was
(we’d like to believe it) telling us to say
what we came to say:
Don’t go, you who’ve gone. You, who were.

Double Portrait

Years ago when the men left the women
or the lover left or was left by her lover
and one of them boarded the White-Sailed Ship
bound for one promising continent or the other
there was no global cell phone to power up on arrival
and no email not even internet in the Tropical Paradise
which had grand furnishings and dark rum and pioneer-type men
while the other who was not in this paradise
sat down at a desk under a London-Gray
or CambridgeMassachusettsInWinter-Gray window
on which it was raining and dashed off a letter
and bound it with string and sealed it with wax
and bundled it aboard the Very Next White-Sailed Ship
bound for the correct continent and months passed
and months passed until she had to wonder
a) did the ship with her letter go down?
b) did the ship with her lover go down?
c) did her lover find another pioneering lover whose ship had come in?
and she paced and pined and paced until her slippers wore out
and then she climbed to the top of the house
where she battled the treachery of wind through a trap door
to get out on the widow’s walk
where at least she could see the ocean
and spit on it and slosh her whiskey over it and howl at the moon
or in a more hopeful moment think “same moon!”
and after all this she expected her lover’s letter and her lover
less and less though there were still some days
too many days when she thought she was dying
for the appearance of a bright white sail
that had never been sent by a lover she’d never see again.
But she didn’t die. She got older.
She arrived at a moral. Always the story is the same
though this year a cell phone will work anywhere and everywhere
has WiFi especially the Promising Pioneering Paradise
which has grand furnishings dark rum an infinity pool and you.
And always the questions are the same too:
Are you reading this? Will you be writing back?

Brittany Perham teaches at Stanford University, where she was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her first collection of poems, The Curiosities, was published in 2012; new work is forthcoming in Southwest Review. She lives in San Francisco.