by Lisa Birnbaum

Published in Issue No. 131 ~ April, 2008

I fall in love with husbands

when mine’s out of town–

all of them, the idea of them,

the wonderful function of husbands,

the dearness of my own

slipping into the plural,

the sea of them,

all these married men

seem to be rightly mine,

just not yet belonging,

on their trips still,

like my usual one–

It’s true a quantity of wives and children

vanishes in these fantasies,

and I regret that, though it’s understood

to be another era,

a decent period passes quickly,

and now the kindness and fun

clogging their middle-aged hearts

is for the good of me–

and the lovely lives I saunter in,

the wives also made them,

that’s the luck, too,

in loving their-or should I say our–husbands.

And when he comes back to me,

my present husband–no tragic loss yet for him,

no kids at large–he may notice I appear



In the forest we see many pipe cleaners

propped on moss as green as Astroturf,

daisies like the ones on rubber bathing caps,

Gillette shaving foam, surely, on plant stems.

The air is sprayed sweet, an earthy deodorizer–

we’re already ready for nothing to be real.

We survey the useful scenery. A whole tortoise shell

entices us to touch. We want it, proof

of something, of something we want. Does it smell?

Oh. Instead a rock, some wood that’s tortoise-shaped,

not too heavy to drag home. Worth it.

the having of it, all it has, we’ll have it, though.

At the end of every statement, we’ll nod to loss

like a girl I knew who took for granted nothing

but the unsaid inadequacy of everything.

Nature’s so good for the soul, though. Beautiful, though.

Then like hers, our foreheads will cloud over.


In my shaking hands, you shake, you

teeter the spoonful of soup to your mouth,

you, dogged against that turbulence

coming out of your own arms, graceful

as you weave around the table, sink the eight

(flailingly accurate when I least want you to be)

and end the tournament, you with the genes

I may carry eighty years or so, too, dancing

along the circuitry of my intention, explaining

nothing of that advantage, my hesitating hold.

Just a shake away, you, in your beautiful beard,

in your last house, watch birds light and linger,

and hear the waterfront rush just there, beyond

the property line (and the highway, you sweet fool),

you tell me that we won’t be rattled apart

by any thunder inside or out, and I stay to listen

nearer now, in case you admit you stayed away too long.

–in memoriam, HB (1917-2002)

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Lisa Birnbaum, a writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry, is an Associate Professor, English and Writing at The University of Tampa. Her fiction and essays have appeared in such journals as Connecticut Review, Grand Tour, Quarter After Eight and Puerto del Sol, and she is fiction editor of Tampa Review.