Back to Issue Thirty

Missing Parts


Hillary, I’m sorry about yr friend who killed himself—sometimes
this world is too much to hold inside us or move through

We pass a place called Crystal Cave and now Endless Caverns
as if we’re meant to be subterranean or sheltered in this storm
or always                          I’ve been spelunking

only once for real and at various points had to squeeze myself
through slick clay passages so narrow they felt like birth canals
and my friend Kate had to take an emergency Xanax in the darkness
before we turned back towards the cave’s mouth

We’ve been driving through the clouds hanging low over Mauzy
and Broadway and Timberville and every town on 81 for hours
in the dark and rain and I am not absent from this car

I am here          I am silent lost in thought writing to you with a
husband driving & two sons in the back                          Are they

mine or just proximate?          How or why do we claim anyone?
In yr last letter you asked me What if I can’t accept my own happiness?

and I consider this when my son asks How many satellites
are in the sky and how do people get them up there so easily?
I think the answer is rockets

I understand the wish to have yr body turned to ashes & dust
then scattered on water or wind or even shot into space

I do not know where I want to rest when I’m gone since
I don’t feel at home anywhere except some subway platforms
and when I’m in motion passing through corridors or terminals

Some days I think I’ve got a missing part—the satellite
that handles contentment which is a lot like happiness
which is the opposite of crisis

I am excellent in most emergencies but restless when I am with
my family in the car singing along to Purple Rain or even when
everyone is asleep in the backseat and it’s quiet except for
asphalt humming under our tires like radio static

The accumulation of dust is a kind of physical index
for the passage of time but to accumulate anything
in a fine coating you need to not-move

you need to be very still like a photograph of yrself
but even those are live now                    you can keep

a small fluttering on yr phone—the essence
of someone          we pass fireworks          nude girls

things outlawed then un-          depending on state lines
we travel bodies of bridges stretched over water
the hometown of an old lover          I still remember

his hipbones beneath mine and the way he drew me
a map of this exact highway with the birthplace
of Eugene O’Neill labeled in purple marker

O Connecticut you are an endless radar on the
interstate median tracking our speed          my youngest
asking if we’ve put the wrong place into the GPS

I have lived what feels like many restless lives in this
one body          Keep going—You didn’t fail at quitting

You just haven’t finished the process says a billboard
talking about smoking but maybe it could also pertain
to happiness          we are in-process          we are trying

so hard and the rain—we can barely see through
the windshield                    the rain, it won’t let up


Erika Meitner is the author of five books of poems, including Ideal Cities (Harper Perennial, 2010), which was a 2009 National Poetry Series winner; Copia (BOA Editions, 2014); and Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions, 2018), which was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the winner of the National Jewish Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Tin House, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she directs the MFA and undergraduate Creative Writing programs. 

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