I Never Knew That Man

I never asked you
what kind of man he was.
I saw him every morning, eating bananas, silent.
I walked beside him at the store, skipping sometimes to the spaghettios
and he’d count the cans with me as we put them in the cart.

I spent a lifetime loving you both, never knowing much
about the reality of two.
What kind of husband?
What kind of wife were you?

I never knew that man.

He was always reminding me to tie my shoes,
reminding you to take your pills,
or stir the pot so it wouldn’t burn
He bickered with you, about the zinnias
or the stew, the people you and he both knew
And he would call you “Lee” and I knew that married couples argued

But I never knew that man.

I wish I had known
if he was your comfort or challenge
if he was your butterflies or branches
or both

Was it a pet name, or a nickname born out of brief?
Was he your true love, the man you left your home to marry,
the man who promised he would bring you back each year
the man whose eyes never stopped mirthing when he saw you

Or was he the man you met first?

I recall your dances, you told me
“Your grandfather danced my shoes off.”

But I never knew if he was a gentle leader, or puddy in your hands.

I never saw him slap your butt, or flirt
Unless you count the wiggling of his ears after burping
I never heard you say “I love you”
Or gush about anything until he was gone.

I know he gave me my musical ear, early pictures of us plunking on the piano
I remember weekends in the humid amphitheater, listening to the brass band
straining to hear his part, before I realized trumpets were always the loudest.

I know you watched with me, and my mother

But I never knew that man.

Was he the dashing duke of soul, bringing colorful brass ballads to your ears
Or the bumbling musician, too wrapped up inside to share
Just expecting or wishing or hoping you to be there,

I wish I knew which man he was

to you.

I wish I had bothered to ask.

We regale our friends
and relatives the fairytale stories
bringing life to your memory
and comfort to my core

But I can’t reconcile the man from the myth
the marriage from the falter
the choice from the vow.

I wish you were still here to guide me to my how
to help me poke holes in the dreamscapes
and recognize when fairytale is facade

to make the unknown known
to illuminate my dark road
to take the never out of knowing

that man.

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