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Image by Ashley Byrd


the madrigal, volume iv

Elegy for my lover, gone to work

by rebecca herz


I stay in bed for hours after you leave
I’m out of a job and you’ve got to work

after you kiss me with your coffee breath
you place your pillow between my knees

I listen secretly as you zipper your coat
that used to be mine, then open the door

as quietly as you can, shut it, press
the button on the elevator, get in, descend

emerge, walk to your car across the street
the air chilled and calm. I won’t get up

until at least ten, more likely eleven, why
would I when you aren’t here and the days

stretch out like wool on the loom as I
search for a poem in the dark like a fool

waiting on a new messiah for my troubles
while your scent settles over even the air

how can I miss you, baby, if you’re still here?


I couldn’t fall back to sleep this morning
after you left, I called out your name, and found silence

It’s seven and I already miss you
our cats are eating each other’s food

I cut my foot on the couch we got by the dumpster
all before eight. I pour water over my hands

to bless God and cleanse my soul
three times right, three times left. I wait for you

remembering that we are waiting, always waiting
either I for you or you for me

you work, I amble at home
you amble at home, I work

we are saving for the cats’ next dental procedure
or the wedding, which will hopefully happen next spring

you are coming home, God willing, at five
while I feed another woman’s boys cold pasta

which is how they like it, and maybe you’ll call
then, when they are fed and showered, I’ll call you back

to mark this moment and expand it like a lung
the moment of hopefulness, hearing your voice

and when we grip to each other in the morning, not wanting to let go
I marvel at how normal living can be so heart-wrenching, so sweet


our cat accomplishes something from the day
just through rest. You leave, he stays

always beside me, snoring while you
visit people’s beds all day, soothing the sick

with your learned skill and compassion
that’s part of you because you’re a woman

people die on you, people stop needing you
don’t die on me, don’t stop needing me

how can I give myself permission to care
enough to fear for my life the idea of losing you

I am depressed, I am ok, I am ok, I am depressed
and so on until I write a poem again, third time

this week on the same subject of missing you
is there a way to get deeper, to parse the open

space, fill it like a lung, expand the moment
so it makes sense? How not to sound

like a broken record, my teenage angst
breaking through, restless, like a barbarian


every morning, I wish there was part of prayer
to remind me I am animal

that it is ok to remain lethargic
in my stagnant state of instinct

yet, animals can be dynamic, look at the tiger
with her ferocious strut through the forests

but I don’t want to be a tiger, it’s winter
I want to be a domestic shorthair

lay at your feet all day even when
your feet are away

how sad to want to throw this human
responsibility away, to close my eyes

and disappear into the light
until you return


at five, I used to sing
on my way to school

my face pressed to the glass. Innocently, I believed
the angels would descend with the right note

the clouds would part, and I’d be unburdened
still, my heart is five, though I wait alone

I scan the room, a ghost in my own body
keep scanning for a sign to revive my soul

from this stupor, not to recede into the sorrow
of knowing you leaving each morning

is just the first step to permanent loss


I’m not used to feeling this good
this soft in between, just the right conditions

for butterflies to breed, for cicadas to dance, for us
to sway all day to the beat of each other’s hearts

then drinking tea and watching TV
playing with the cats, listening to the neighbors

fight in many languages, banging on the walls
smelling the curry and Lysol in the hallways

staring at the ugly façade of our building upon return from a long walk
through a park I hate walking through alone so I avoid M-F

I dreamt last night I set the apartment on fire making tea
and fear spread through me, even in sleep, I could feel

the realness of any moment anything can happen
even without this sickness of sadness, so pervasive the threat

we can never guarantee safety, someone once told me
all you can do is comfort yourself, and have faith

Rebecca Herz is a poet and graduate student of social work. She lives in New Jersey with her partner Jordana and two cats, Fiona and Sebastian. At the moment, she is also working as a teacher's aide in a local primary school. She enjoys playing guitar, singing, and writing music.  You can find more of her poetry on where she publishes daily. 

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