In the Thin Places

Heaven and earth,
the Celtic saying goes,
are only three feet apart,
but in thin places, that
distance is even shorter.

Eric Weiner,
“Where Heaven and
Earth Come Closer”

for Max or Alex
or, maybe, James


Last night I dreamt of you, after all these
years, and you were lying in my arms, in

the middle of the day, the sunlight showing
the first strands of silver in your hair, and

your eyes blue, so blue, heart-poundingly
blue, like something out of a romance novel

only better because, at last, you were mine.
Afterward, in the dream, we walked through

your garden, lush with peonies, pink and red,
heavy with daffodils and yellow roses, and

you showed me the freshly dug corner where
you were going to plant carnations, red and

pink, because they were my favorite. I stumbled
along beside you, wondering that someone as

beautiful as you could actually love me, and
when you kissed me, the sun warm on my

back and you warm and strong in front of me,
bees buzzing faintly behind us, a lush carpet

of violets under our bare feet, the cat rubbing
against our ankles, when you kissed me and

whispered my name, the walls around my heart
crumbled into useless piles of rock and salt.

Last night, I dreamt of you, after all these
years, and of our worst argument, over our

son’s name, because he was unexpected,
because you already had two sons,

because the sound of your first wife’s
recriminations still sounded in your ears,

perhaps because even then you already
loved someone else. I wanted to name

our son Max or Alex, but you wanted
James, your father’s name, the middle

name of both of your sons, but I said, No,
not James, and before I could even think

of something to explain that it had nothing
whatsoever to do with your father, who’d

died long before I met you, you raised
your voice, making your boys run into

the kitchen. The youngest pressed his head
against me and held tight while you promised

them everything they needed to hear. After
they stopped crying, you herded them upstairs,

and I sat at the table, staring out at a starless
sky, the tea cooling in my cup. I realized

then that though we’d been together for
years, I’d never told you about James, though

he was my own father, nor about what he’d
done to me every night in childhood. And I knew

then that I never would tell you. No, not
James, I said to the darkness. Not ever James.

I rinsed the cups and the teapot, let in the cat,
turned off all the lights, checked on the children,

and found you already in bed, already asleep.
I spent a restless night in the guest room,

and in the morning, you were gone without
having said a word. At that moment, our son,

accidentally and only tentatively tucked inside
me, was unsettled and lost his hold on me.

Last night, in dreams, your wife wasn’t
yelling at me over the phone for having

moved into her house; she wasn’t at the
front door begging to talk to you just once

more only for a few minutes and only for
the sake of the children; she wasn’t weeping

in her hospice bed, clutching my hand while
blaming me for everything, even the cancer

that was killing her. In dreams, she was
sitting at our kitchen table, drinking tea

and eating biscuits, gazing out the windows
that overlooked the back yard and garden,

where your boys squealed as you threw
fallen leaves at them. Suddenly, in dreams,

your wife was holding our son, cooing and
kissing him, but when I reached for little

Max or little Alex, when I touched your
wife’s arm, the kitchen faded away and

she was running toward a plane that
roared as it lifted off, quickly, so quickly,

as swiftly as the cancer which took her.
Breathless, I ran along beside, promising

that she could have you back if only she
let me have our son, but from the other side

of the plane’s window, she held him up, kissed
him on the cheek, and laughed. In the moment

it took me to realize that I’d never seen her
smile, in the moment it took to realize that

I’d never once seen our son’s bluer-than-blue
eyes, the plane shuddered, and with a terrific

groan and squeal of metal, it plummeted to the
earth. Breathless, I knelt over the debris, clawing

and scraping aside the twisted wreckage, my
eyes blinded by smoke and salt and bitter tears.

I dreamt of you again last night, despite
my having left you so many years ago that

I can barely remember the leaving though
I’ve never forgotten calling when you were

out of town at a conference and hearing my
best friend answer your hotel room phone

in the middle of the day. When I woke this
morning, there you were again, this time in

my own garden, holding the hand of our
toddling son, your flickering figures

mingling with the dappled shade of the
willows at the garden’s edge. Faint as the

morning breeze, the two of you roamed
through the dog roses and blue salvia,

the lavender and rosemary, the marigold
and chamomile, until you reached the end

of the garden, your footsteps sending salt
flying through the air. As your shades

disappeared into the woods, the sun
winked between the branches, blinding

me. I started to run after you — not for
you, not ever again for you, but for our

son, for my son — and as I lumbered
through the stones bordering the garden,

I reached out, thinking, once more, as I
had so many times over the years, yes,

my sweet, darling boy, yes... If only I’d
had the chance to hold you in my arms,

to hear you laugh when you blew out
the candles on your cake, to dry your

tears when you fell off your bike or
skinned your knee… If only I’d been

able to soothe you when someone called
you names or broke your heart, if only I’d

been able to applaud when you graduated,
to weep when you handed me my first grandchild…

If only, my darling boy, if only I could have
seen you grow to be a man like your brothers,

then yes, oh, yes, my sweet, baby boy,
I would have even named you James.


© 2023 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. May not be reprinted or excerpted without express written permission. Please do not support piracy of Intellectual Property.

NOTE: “In the Thin Places” is a new poem: it does not appear in Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Get Love in the Time of Dinosaurs now!

Read more of my new poetry, excerpts from
Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, or excerpts from
Where Lightning Strikes:Poems on The Holocaust