Difficult to know whether Jennifer
was ever my mother’s friend,
but my mother couldn’t bring herself to say
she wasn’t. Strands of mousey brown hair
in a perfect pixie cut resting
on a starling’s frame; she still sends me
Christmas cards even though
we haven’t spoken in thirty years
and my mother has been dead for four.
We have nothing in common,
not even my mother.
Still, with guided precision,
her holiday cards arrive weeks before the others,
always carrying a photo of a recent trip
through the English countryside
or a cruise along the Rhine.
Jennifer strained to appear genteel,
bathed in the appearance
of old money: a new Mercedes
in the driveway, pearls
and white linen at Sunday dinner,
and a cleaning woman
who came on Thursdays.
When I told her my mother had died,
a card followed with a photo of her
with her grandchild somewhere in Germany.
The rage I never saw in my mother
over her indelicate betrayals
detonated someplace inside me.
We’ve known each other for years
and it occurs to me now
that you are my Jennifer.
I will never own more than one home.
My education was informal compared to yours.
I’ll never drive a ruby red Alfa Romeo through Rome
and I won’t spend an afternoon in the Louvre
among the Degas, Monets, and Renoirs.
We were once close enough
to be lovers, shared a kind of telepathy,
something that raised my father’s hope:
maybe I wasn’t queer after all,
an inference he often made
by wetting his finger with his tongue
and tracing his eyebrow.
You were lured to vulnerability,
liked to guard the wreckage,
when coming out
was a kind of teething of the exoskeleton.
Shortly before she died, my mother said
she could never keep up with Jennifer,
as if sometime during the night
she found the missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle.
There was a sense of accomplishment
in her pale blue eyes. Completion.
And I, dear one, will never
measure up to you:
not your wealth, intellect, or unspoiled life.
And that leaves us where?
There’s no name for this.
We are more than acquaintances,
but less than friends;
my thoughts of you
will always be an agent
of desire and envy.
You are my Jennifer.
We loved the idea of love,
but we’ve learned to live with its entanglement,
what followed was inspired
by true events.