First, choose expensive stationery
(this will make the receiver feel guilty).
But if you truly aim to wound,
the cheapest card cuts best.
Then write in your finest, most illegible cursive
(for a dose of panic to the heart).
This is how I write to you,
and I expect a reply following every present—
Christmas, birthdays, the odd Halloween
(love is often expressed with stale candy;
the more unpalatable, the better).
Fill your letters with desperate gratitude and love,
(things which should never be mentioned out loud).
If you mean to visit me
(twice a year is an acceptable average),
be sure to send a letter in warning.
Labor over details like
arrival and departure times,
(This will give me time to clean the carpet.)
Take note that I am not available to visit
on Saturdays. I devote the time to my collection
of European glass
which demands nothing more from me
than a weekly dusting.
Objects keep you company longer
(so remember to treat them gently;
people are made of harder stuff).
After dusting comes the diligent cleaning
of the knickknacks and baubles
arranged carefully around the house
the importance and meanings
of which I forgot long ago.
Still, they are less demanding than the carpet
(start in one corner and vacuum your way
out of the room, taking care not to muss
the straight lines made by the vacuum).
Less demanding than the grandchildren
who play there.
In return for your letters, your warnings,
your considerations for my habits,
I will greet you with a smile,
take your hand briefly,
and talk of the weather
(the sudden cold has frozen my tomatoes).
I will fuss over a tasteless meal in the kitchen
while you quietly wander the house,
admiring the stained glass,
the walls flushed with their glowing shadows,
the shining, meaningless ornaments
on their perches next to your school picture,
the impeccable lines in the cleaned carpet.
You will stand there at the edge,
extend one booted foot, and plant an impression
in the fuzzy mauve sea.
I won’t notice it disrupting the strict order
of my house by reminding me of you
until you take your leave,
when I let you press a kiss to my chalky
diabetic cheek and remind you to write.