The I Have to Die
after Alice Notley
Champagne sugar gin, Vermont summer night
and Claire in the morning “I have the Fear”
I knew what she meant because I had it too:
the where did I go hand-on-the-neck fear
We tore our legs through Jamaica Kincaid’s garden
and I was belligerent about the pink moon, I made everyone look.
Mornings I wake and invoke I must change my life
but never do. The summer I swear to quit drinking
is the summer I work at a bar.
The owner Gary tells me “Gary works really hard”
or he’s closing the bar early because little Gary has plans tonight.
I think he means himself in the 3rd, or his dick, but it turns out he has a son.
My best friend Claire is sweet with me, words cotton-edged
when I implore her really, say what’s wrong with me.
“Your purse is messy, you spend extravagantly and you text too much.”
In the Hamptons I take her to the ocean at night.
She’s scared of a man in the dunes while I’m distracted by the waves
like a girl throwing her hair at a guy who doesn’t give a shit.
Claire is resisting her boyfriend for the time being.
In a week she’ll give in, but for now she let’s me
tell her the same story again: a wrecked love affair.
A bad habit. My family quotes Werner Herzog’s
Grizzly Man and cracks up. He spiraled downward
is something we’ve been saying for years.
My father moves to LA, takes up Kabbalah, quits drinking.
He carries a book in Aramaic to ward off the evil eye;
the belief takes all the fun out of my tarot pack.
When I tell a poet about the bar behind my house
he’s surprised it wasn’t wedged into a poem already.
But nothing ever happened between the weeds and bottle caps.
My sisters and I called it a graveyard
and when our dad was in there drinking we’d buy dusty
peanut m&ms by the handful from the old gumball machine.
That bar is the reason I was born, where my parents met.
Now all the nights I work are dead. The regulars, Lou and Lou and Jerry
and Phil, live upstairs. They help me close and buy me pizza
but when they ask where I live I gesture vaguely.
My friends stoke a fire on the beach with boys here to work the season.
The one on top of me groans mi amor – my father calls me that –
my skin recoils on the sand you’re so good so good he says
though I won’t let him fuck me and I’m barely kissing back.
Why he mistook me for goodness I don’t know.
You won’t know water is sweet until you wake up
parched. I almost drowned in shallow water:
I fell into the bay and it didn’t occur to me to stand.
Two-years-old and the look of my red jelly shoes
underwater, deliciously magnified. If the lifeguards shout
mermaid! to each other it means shark.
We nearly hit a deer in the Jeep but three stars
shoot the sky so I call it breaking even.
I was on my back for the last meteor shower,
my first winter in Vermont, lake cold
to mutely reflect the firmament. We peered over the edge
as if we’d lose hold of Earth. Stars bright from below,
the dock rough in frost, I lay with an old friend,
my platonic. We never confuse affection unlike the rest:
we slept together like children, which is to say almost innocent.
Laura Creste is an MFA candidate in Poetry at New York University, and a graduate of Bennington College. She is the Web/Public Relations editor of Washington Square Review and a coordinator of the NYU Emerging Writers reading series at KGB bar. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in plain china, Control, and Bodega Magazine. She is a book reviewer at Full Stop and has written for Bustle.