My love wanted a glass of water
so I pulled an old, plastic, dirty cup
out of my bag and offered it to him
to fill with water.
My love said that if he were put in
a poem, no one would believe it.
My love told me to put him to sleep.
By this, I mean death.
The dog is hiding because she knows
I killed the other dog, and she probably
thinks that I am going to kill her too.
She never liked me anyway.
I should kill the dog just
to keep things even.
I should kill myself just to keep
I should kill the cats too
just to keep things fair.
The cats are young, though, and
do not symbolize anything.
Theoretically, I should kill myself
just to keep things even.
I mean who would really care?
My body doesn’t symbolize anything.
My husband is sick of my bullshit,
and my son can take time off school.
My love can use the drinking fountain,
and M can make a map to find the car.
The dog isn’t eating.
I mean, I’m not really sure.
I haven’t put food in her bowl in two days.
I can’t bear to go near it.
Mourning is like that. The words
I cannot bear it come to mind.
But, I can bear it. Eventually one moves
on to other sorrows.
In the meanwhile, I am not comfortable.
I am a murderess. I hired a hit man,
and the hit man killed the dog.
My superpower is loving
people who do not care about me.
My superpower is despair.
I am good at my superpower.
Despair and me go hand in hand.
We want to sit in the trees and kiss
all day. I love despair so much
I should marry it.
My body is nothing if not a symbol.
If three men are in a room full of water
and die in three discrete ways
the trick of the puzzle is to figure out
how the men died. If all the men die
in discreet ways
related to water.
In the country of absence,
there is no eating, there is no sleeping.
There is no gardening.
There are no poems. There is
no listening to Beyoncé. There is no
coffee in the country of absence.
There are no old movies. Moishe’s
apartment doesn’t exist.
In the country of absence,
there are no reruns of Girls.
There are no trees.
My phone illuminates in my dress pocket.
I never wanted that fucking thing.
It is a text from the man who lives in
my phone under the name My Utter Sorrow.
Actually, everyone in my phone is called that,
or they should be.
The one poet tells the other poet
that she wants to put a Beyoncé song
in the middle of her book. The other poet
says, You can’t do that, they will sue you.
The one poet says, Well, Ted Berrigan put
a Shakespearean sonnet in the middle of his Sonnets,
and no one even noticed. The other poet looks
puzzled, as he often does when
the other poet says something. She
probably made that up.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are
in the public domain, anyway.
Jennifer Bartlett is the co-editor of Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. She is the author of three books of poetry and an op-ed writer for the New York Times. She is currently writing a biography on the poet Larry Eigner.
This excerpt from The Country of Absence was originally published in TLR Fall 2016: I Live Here