I’ve never strolled inside an escort’s loft,
swallowed Ambien, or edited a vellum
manuscript. I’ve hesitated to view
porn flicks, name a dog Beverly,
or chew lobster without uttering
a prayer. These choices gave me
migraines, but I know that the law
of survival dictates whom we decide
to adore. I suggest this: somersault
in a sandbox at all ages, don’t
be a Jeopardy contestant, and bake
a shank steak or fry bananas instead
of committing hari-kari. Drink cider
on Fridays, learn to clench and mutter,
and swipe a candy bar after church.
Don’t canoe downriver because rocks
beg for attention. Eat buttered sesame
buns when you bet on the ponies, stutter
before you speak, and gargle a poem a day.
Snitch on no one, and do not, I repeat,
do not, wink at one of your twin lovers
before you slip under the covers.
A secret’s safest hiding place is in the open.
—Jill Alexander Essbaum
For over thirty years my married
friend and I’ve traded secrets in letters,
emails, the rare face-to-face at her readings:
my self-given nickname, her lust
for a middleweight boxer/convict.
Only she knows the extent of my lunacy—
I followed a girl on a bus from Boston to Biloxi,
watched her pick blackberries,
and we shared them in a motel pool.
My friend confessed to me
a husband forced her to drive getaway
in a bank job. Netting ten grand,
they flew to Vegas, lost it in twenty minutes.
Then she howled the true secret:
his weapon was a squirt gun.
She laughed when I revealed
a wild woman once cajoled me
into kicking in a boyfriend’s door
so she could steal a Mark Strand book.
And now, I’ll share one more
and wonder if she has another:
how, so many years ago,
when we embraced in my duplex
before I left for a lover’s loft,
I almost kissed her and asked to stay,
almost promised our tryst would be a deeper secret,
would never be traded in the currency of love.