Kevin Matz


     for Dave

Blame it on the booze if you want toó
all the Dewarís and Ice House 22ís
and Seagram's 7 and 7's we drank every
night on the porch. Hell, during the day, too.
We were always drinking it seemed.
At home inside, or outside, or at the bar
a block away. Even on the way to the bar,
dropping empties down the sewer drain.
The bar where as soon as we walked in
they started our drinks. The bar where
we smoked, (I smoked Marlboroís, you
Camelís, remember?) shot pool, or listened
to Debbie, the little blonde with a voice
like Ella, sing Beatles tunes all night. Or
where we did all of the above at once.
Blame it on whatever you want to.
It doesnít matter now. I havenít seen you
in almost 7 years. I got married. Did
you hear? 4 1/2 years ago. We almost
split up too, after 3. But we pulled through.
Divorce isnít as bad as people make out.
It is what it is. It hurts like everything else
if you let it. The hardest thing
is the actual paper. Sign here and itís over.
Thatís what saved Katrina and me. We
just couldnít do it. The finality of the thing.
We sat on those papers for 8 months,
and I even moved out to this place with stained-
glass windows where I slept almost
all the time. I used to see faces
in the patterns in the glassóa face
like whatís-his-name from that show
Kung-Fu, a glimpse of a clown face frowning,
or a girl giving head. But this isnít
what I wanted to say. I wanted
to tell you how much I hated you for leaving,
just packing up that day in May, a week
after my birthday, and heading back home.
And not because you left me to pay
all the rent until the lease was up.
I never cared about the money, though
you may have thought I did. Thatís what
I heard anyway, 6 months later, from
Carson. And that was why you never
came back. But why did you leave? Really?
Your grandfather had died and I know
you loved him, but still. For so long
I was mad and bad-mouthed you to all our
friends. It sounds so petty nowóbad-
mouthed. Jesus, Dave, you were
my best friend and I loved you.
Remember on my 22nd birthday, the one
just before you left, how you kissed
my neck so hard I had hickeys the
next day at work and obviously
couldnít say you gave them to me.
Wow, were we drunk that night.
Remember how we set that chair
in our living room on fire and threw it
off the porch and let it burn in our front
yard all night. I bet the neighbors loved
us. That was the stabbing chair,
incidentally. You have to remember
that. How we kept a knife stuck in the side
so that whenever anyone felt like it
they could jab it into the fake leather and pull
out the stuffing that eventually covered
our living room carpet. The landlord probably
loved us too. He had to replace the carpet
when I moved out in August, you know.
All the beer stains and cigarette burns were
too much. Plus he found Carsonís
closetful of pot. But he wasnít mad
about that, just said heíd like to be
able to grow pot at his place (his
wife wouldnít let him) and asked if
he could have some. What was I going to say?
No? Carson loved him for that later, when
I told him about his weedís close call.
Speaking of weed, weíre discussing
Fear and Loathing in my class. All
the drugs and none of the values, right?
That and Milesís autobiography were
your 2 favorite books. But this morning my
daughter threw up in the car on the way
to her school and I was 10 minutes late
to teach and we never even got
to the book. Fuck what a disaster. And
I still have a car seat to clean this afternoon.
Did you know I had a daughter?
Sheís my wifeís, really. A high school
mishap. But I think of her as my own.
Last night I took her to a poetry
reading at the Bread Co., I think you
know the place, and she was going
nuts the whole time, spilled her
water all over the table, talked,
got up and walked around while people
were trying to read and I yelled at her
and felt bad about it later. Remember how
you used to love my poetry. You even
used one of my poems to get that girl to like
you. A poem I wrote to get a girl to
like me, a girl I thought I loved, or did love,
but who didnít love me. The poem was about
strawberries, I think. The last lines were:
I offer you strawberries, / You take my hand.
What was your girlís name? Vicki or Vanessa or
something. Thereís a girl in my class named Nicky
that reminds me of her. She asked why all
the books weíre reading have to do with drugs.
What do you think I should have said?
I said, I guess thatís what Iím interested in
or some such. But interest is only
partly true, I think. Half the story. Maybe
Iím wrong about the last lines of that
poem. I hope so. What a bunch of crap.
Strawberries. I donít even like
strawberries. But Vicki, or whatever
her name was, was a knockout. I still
remember that night you got her to sit up
with us topless in the living room
while we watched TV. Now those
were tits. Just the size to fit the palm
of your hand and firm, nipples
as hard and pink as pencil erasers.
She didnít remember any of it the next day.
She liked me, came on to me a few
times when you werenít around.
I turned her down, of course, for
the girl who didnít love me.
It could have been for you, but it wasnít.
I was flattered either way. I wonder if you
knew. You probably didnít even care.
You were always with one hot girl or
another. I never went out with anyone
as hot as that until Katrina. Katrina
the beautiful bipolar. Katrina
with eyes that could cut glass.
Katrina who left me and then tried
to kill herself twice and spent a week
on the sterile, humming, florescent,
5th floor of Provena each time. Katrina
who wonít take her medication
because it makes her feel dead. Katrina
who loves me like I can't explain, but know
by the way she touches and listens
and looks at me. Thereís actual yearning there
to know me better, to understand. Katrina
who gives head like a champ.
Katrina who keeps me sober. Katrina.
You would have liked her. Sheís
good for me. There were a few times
sitting on the porch where everything
in my head cleared and I could see
my life stretching out across the green distance
of our yard. And it was fine for once.
And it is fine, more than fine. Better
than anything I could have seen back then.
I saw Vicki once, by the way, a year
or so after you left. She hated me, not
you. Isnít that strange? She said
I got you to leave her. Or I didnít defend her
or something, when the two of you
were fighting. That could be true. I
was supposed to be her friend. Thatís
what she said that night while we sat
at her kitchen table and she blew smoke
from her nose and smashed out cigarette
after cigarette in an ashtray sheíd taken
from some bar. I should have at least
kept in touch. But honestly
I donít remember even thinking
that things could play out any other way.
There's an order we follow whether
we like it or not. She just liked it less
than me. Or hadnít learned it yet. But
what was I going to say? I wanted
to say something. By the end
she was shaking me hard by the shoulders
and screaming. She was young
after all (which explains those tits).
After class this morning, walking
back to my car, someone had written
on the sidewalk a piece of an Auden
poem in blue chalk. ďNever such innocence.
Never before or since.Ē That seems about
right, though innocence may not be all itís
cracked up to be. My daughter, if
I had to guess, already knows more
about the harm of false expectations
than I do and it doesnít seem to bother her a bit.
She knows how we can fuck up, and
forgives, and loves us just the same.
Because we all fuck up one way or another.
You too, I guess. All of us together.
And itís fine. Just fine. Thatís what I wanted
to say, Dave. That we're golden.

Kevin Matz is a graduate of the MFA program in Poetry at the University of Illinois.

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