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Sunday, April 22, 2018

In memory of my thirty-fourth year [amy lemmon]

for Jennifer L. Knox

Tonight I raise a glass to my thirty-fourth year,
which however I try I cannot seem to remember,
it is so fuzzy and hard to focus.
I may or may not have been listening to Rufus Wainwright
while lying on the floor drinking a Manhattan cocktail.
I may have coveted the vintage-inspired fashions and the semiprecious
bead and silver jewelry from Ibiza Boutique on University.
I may have been not-not trying to get pregnant
because sure enough within the year a boy
was expected and then born (I was thirty-six then
and now he is saddled with the old
widow mom for the rest of my life, however long
that may be.)

Hello, thirty-four-year-old self, you had no idea
what was in store. You surely had fights
with your husband, you surely felt misused
at your job, you were so overworked
and underpaid and you always hated grading papers.
You hated it so much you talked about it
with your therapist! (Everyone had a therapist,
it was New York, you were a poet, there was nothing
to be embarrassed about.) She suggested that grading
was writing, and since you hated writing, it made perfect sense.

You hated writing and it was the only thing you wanted to do.
You never wrote enough poems, and no one wanted
to publish them. My, how things have changed.

Suddenly I remember that actually my thirty-fourth
year was when I was thirty-three, so I have been thinking
of the wrong year all along. The year I thought I would be
married forever and thought I wanted kids. I thought a lot
and I didn't write as much as I could have
considering I was contemplating parenthood,
which would not exactly be conducive to more writing.
I applied for fifty jobs and got fifty rejection letters,
an especially nice one for the job in Connecticut that
I had traveled to Toronto in December with a terrible cold
to interview for, and came in "a strong third candidate."

When I google the man who got that job, I see from his bio
that we are nearly identical: I teach poetry writing 
(and, when possible, American Literature—
poetry, novel, short story). While I consider myself a formalist 
as a writer, I most enjoy creating tension between form 
and content. My tastes are eclectic: I admire Elizabeth Bishop 
on one hand and John Ashbery on the other. 

The joke's on him: I live in New York City! I work in Manhattan
and I live in Queens!
                                    Jen says it's too hard to live here and write,
and I totally agree, but somehow I cannot leave
this city where my children were born
and their father died,
where the subways keep getting worse
and the rents are never coming down.
My neighbors are the exact Mafia guys Jen
wrote about in her poem. I would not trade them
for her neighbors in Iowa, because I went to high
school with that guy, or someone like him,
a real joker who always thought I was cute
but never asked me out because I was smart.

Who am I kidding? I was always a little miserable
and liked it that way, the long days stretching out
like my antique bed, the radio crackling when I
changed the volume, the Electric Light Orchestra
expansive and mysterious, the magazines telling you
how often to shave your legs and what mascara to buy
and the Wheatsworth crackers and Colby cheese
a perfect complement to a glass of cider from King's Orchard,
which is now Laird's Apple Jack and drunken goat
chevre with gluten free crisps.

I confess: there really is no glass, I am not drinking
but I am a little intoxicated by memory and the blanks
thereof, the AOR radio turning into jazz, the pink polo shirt
in your first driver's license turning into flowy broomstick skirts
and the stolen wallet and the New York plates,
the '70 Monte Carlo morphing to a rental truck full
of Cincinnati and the Greek festival
your first week in Astoria, the year before
you were someone's mother and the year before that,
the mind-movies flip flip flipping
at the end and no one there to change the reel.

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