by Janet Bowdan
When you did not come for dinner, I ate leftovers for days. When you missed dessert, I finished all the strawberries. When you did not notice me, I walked four miles uphill past you and into Florence and five miles the other way. When you did not like my dress, I wore it with gray silk shoes instead of gold ones. When you did not see my car had sunk into a snow drift at the turn of your driveway, I took the shovel off your porch and dug myself out. When you stopped writing, I wrote. When you sent back my poems, I made them into earrings and wore them to work. When you refused to appear at the reunion, I went to the dentist who showed me X-rays of my teeth. When you did not tell me you would be in town, I met you on Main Street on the way to the library. While you had dinner with me, I walked past the window and looked in. You were not there.
From Denver Quarterly, Winter 1998
When I find a favorite poem, especially in a book I own, I oftentimes will revisit it.
The first time I read this poem (seven years ago), I felt that she might have been in love with someone who was unaware. Today, as I read this poem again (especially the end), I realize that she was very much in love with someone. There's a portrayal of an almost over-extension of herself. Yet, the receiving party actually is aware, they just blatantly do not care. This is a short prose-story of unrequited love of the worst variety. An almost thoughtless stringing one along sort of deal. The writer notices this, finally, as she observes herself (outside of herself) having dinner with this other person. The other person is there physically, but they really are not there at all. I think, perhaps, the story ends there with this realization because there is no other option but to move on from that unhealthy relationship (or lack there-of one).
I have been there with her before. I see my twenty-six-year-old-self meandering my way through a cesspool of over-rated relationships that sorely under-delivered and left with me a cynical kind of wisdom. Maybe that's what endeared me to this poem so much: I found a piece of my old self inside it.
Love and interpersonal relationships are a many-complex, oftentimes sad and deeply dimensional thing. Because they can be back-tracked, excavated, reanalyzed and rewritten...they make for perfect writing material.