On Reading Elizabeth Bishop After a Breakup

by Louisa Schnaithmann

I.

There’s an art to leaving.
Bags packed by the door,
the rough suitcase, the backpack.
You always have to be ready.

You always have to be ready
because the body wants
what bodies want, which is
to be touched. Desired.

Sometimes you can’t give
that to someone.
Sometimes the rain pelts
against frosted glass, and

you cry in the bathroom.
The rain falls harder.
Wind gusts curtains
across the sink.

II.

His body, caught
in mine. The sheets
blooming under us
like morning glories.

When I leave him,
it is a long time coming.
He knew from New Year’s
until September.

I would go.
I would go because his body
did not want my body, or what
he thought my body to be.

The Rousseau print
he gave me is hidden
in my mother’s closet.
I don’t look. I don’t need to.

It tells me everything.
It whispers his secrets
to everyone, including me.
It will expose him.

Don’t wait for her to leave, the painting
says. Don’t let her go.

III.

Bishop writes of losing.
I write about leaving, the way
the door swings in when
you run out. I don’t want loss.

It’s too complex, messy. The edges
ooze, a wound that blisters, infected.
Leaving is easier, neat as a napkin.
Tidier. One has more control.

I leave men behind like bomb
rubble, like city ruins, like floods.
I am never abandoned. The slate
is always wiped clean.

Never turn back. Don’t dare to.
Keep hurtling forward.


Louisa Schnaithmann is a poet living in the Philadelphia area whose work has been published in Menacing Hedge, Projector Magazine (in the UK), and Rogue Agent. Her poem, “On The Problem of Womanhood”, was nominated for Best of the Net in 2019.

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