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George Looney

The Revision of Something Imagined

If memory is the backfire
of a used Pontiac,
and the current owner has confused

a street he’s never been down
for the one where his wife
has woken from a troubled dream

to get the coffee going
and yell upstairs
to the familiar, strange man

she assumes is shaving
to Hurry or you’ll be late,
never dreaming he’s been

out driving in his underwear
for hours and is,
at the very moment

she yells for him to hurry,
scratching his stubbled chin
trying to think of her name,

to remember her voice,
this woman he’s holding
in the photo he found

tucked in the sun visor’s pocket,
this woman he thinks
is vaguely pretty, whose lips

he can almost imagine
(or is it remember? he wonders)
saying his name with

something just under her voice
he wants to believe
must be love, then

to remember anything at all
is more complicated
than we thought. To remember

one detail, it turns out,
is more a matter of luck than desire,
or even need. Say

the man is in his forties, his body
not yet gone to seed. Say
the Pontiac passes a young woman

out walking her dog to
get some time to herself,
time off from the woman

she lives with and says she loves.
Say she sees his torso
in that kind of ghostly light

the interior of a car has
hours before dawn and thinks
Not bad, for a man,

and almost smiles. Is this still
memory, or the revision of something
imagined being mistaken

for occurrence? If we say his wife
sits at the kitchen table,
the grainy light around her

so intense, just before the sky begins
to murmur light, that
she can’t keep her eyes open

all the way, if we say she squints
at the coffee cup in her hands
and thinks it’s not like him

to be so late or so quiet,
what does it mean if she hears
a car pull up their driveway,

sees the headlights cast shadows
against the garage before
they go out and a car door slams shut

and someone walks up to the door,
awkwardly puts in the key
and comes in? What does it mean

if, for a second, she doesn’t
recognize the almost naked man
as her husband? How much is

a question of what’s remembered
and how much is
what we imagine things are?

How do we reconcile our need
for narrative to tell us
which is which with the fact

narrative doesn’t recognize
the sad, little differences
between what really happened

and what we say happens,
or has happened, or will
happen? Which is

what all of this has been about,
from the beginning,
and what it ends up being about

no matter whether the two
go back upstairs
and make love until they are

fully awake, or sit at the table
with coffee and a distance
neither can name, much less cross.


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