If your name will ever not be
gravel in my mouth, I wonder.

A is how public alphabets begin.
A is what I write at the top of your letters.

[Happy Anniversary] A-
[Happy New Year] A-

As a child I was forced
to make a show of saying

I love you, day after day
to a woman with cruel blue eyes.

Now, I say it to you,
and you say it to me.

What a marriage ending looks like
I saw up close before puberty-

financial stress, infidelity-
I do, I do. I do, I do, I do, I do-

I hear myself say I’m married to a room,
and in the room, am the most startled.

I attend a monthly dinner alone
(by which I mean without you)

where people share hot tips
for how to be less in debt

then get drunk on wine and convince me
to buy things I don’t need.

Growing up, I associated guilt
with wanting anything

except books; good books were safe
if used, if read more than once.

Language was a rewarded vice,
and the Good Book best of all

to be caught eyeing,
though dangerous in its own ways

with its impossible orders like
Walk as a child of light.

To want light. I tried. I did.
My trying has cursed me more than anything.

You say I should be more selfish with my time
because you don’t know the hours

I photograph myself
naked to share with no one.

I’m sorry. I love you. I’m a creature
most at home

replenishing my venom under rock.
The entire days of silence:

this is how I knew we could work.
Of all I could seduce, only you could I imagine

crawling over, crawling beneath
for close to a century, curious.

Gabrielle Bates