Not Monroe but Marilyn the English teacher
Who befriended me the first day of my first job
Who invited me to her thirtieth birthday—
Marilyn the inveterate New Yorker
from West Virginia who lived
in a tiny studio on the
Upper East Side when
Nobody could afford to live there.
Marilyn who taught me how to sew pantsuits
When it was radical to wear them to school.
Marilyn who had pale skin and black hair
A long face, a cutting word,
Who wouldn’t let her students say, This is boring,
But made them say instead, This did not reach me.
Marilyn died who slept with my ex after our breakup—
He can’t remember this because
He never remembers anything he did before
The new millennium.
I lost touch with Marilyn after she met a man
on the train coming back from Lake George.
She called to tell me she was engaged,
warned me not to get involved with a younger man.
I ignored her, never saw her again.
She liked dogs, a special breed, I don’t recall which one.
She never married, became one of those beloved teachers
Everyone remembers forever—
She told me her father used to leave her and her kid brother
Locked in the car on his way home, he stopped at a bar,
He’d be in there for hours drinking—
I’d never heard of a Jewish alcoholic
Or even Jews in West Virginia
She said they weren’t observant,
never went to temple, there was no bat mitzvah.
She loved the theater, the students, the Upper East Side,
Expensive scotch, fine restaurants in midtown, and the beach.
She loved Gatsby, Hamlet, Sylvia Plath, Melville,
Anne Sexton, John Donne.
She had the saddest face, even when she smiled,
Black lashes against white skin.
Her dark wit made me laugh and wonder
Really, what was so funny about what
Was so sad. I wish I knew
What became of her, before
Her short ticket was punched.
Reprinted from the Little Patuxent Review, Summer 2016