“Time Crime” by Adele Gardner

If I drive down the old road at midnight
on what was once our anniversary,
will your Jack Russell Terrier still greet me at the door,
silent, black muzzle freckled with grey?
If I drive down this hidden, twisting road
through the dense woods,
dirt-raw, pebble-strewn
with the things I’ve thrust behind me,
worn like an old groove,
this track through ageless forest—
and if I cross over that wooden bridge at the witching hour—
can I actually go back in time?

I want to step out of my car straight into
that night you moved in and I helped carry photographs—
those tiny, split-second cages,
time’s punishment for our forgetting,
for our attempts to remember—
our imprisonment
in solid frames we can never reenter.
Burials are a means of forgetting:
and I would have buried my entire life
to forget I had lost you,
if it had not meant forgetting
who we were then.

I want to remember. I peer through this darkness
down the narrow beam of my headlights
as the world roars by around me,
none of it shutting out the pain,
the head-throbbing excitement,
the choke in the throat as I round the last curve.
Will there still be purple flowers,
the orange lamp still shining through your bedroom shades,
and you peeping out through the curtains
as climb through azaleas to tap your French windows
for a cool kiss and swift welcome home?—
your small hand guiding me over the threshold
into that strong clean scent of peaches and lemon
masking your mother’s cigarettes.

Only one more bend to go, to find the truth—
will my wish come true?
Will time roll back like this road?
I’m willing it so tightly my breath stops.
I’m wishing as hard as a child
with a heart full of that first evening star.

I pull up, engine guttering to silence.
Your house is dark. No welcome in the windows.
An unfamiliar car lurks in front of your apartment.
I sit with the motor turned off, hands in my lap,
then climb out into cold and stillness.
I want to step back into the picture,
peel back the emulsion,
open the leaves of time like a the iris of a lens,
my wish refocusing reality.

As I step out into the night, so soft, so quiet,
I can still believe:
on the little hill, moonlight glazes our gazebo,
painting those plain wood boards with magic—
where we’d planned a picnic that never happened,
where I will never sit now
and write in the early morning,
looking up to your playful chuckle
as you bring me French toast on a tray.
I slink over into the moonbeams like stalking a dream,
sliding onto the octagonal bench to sit in the silence,
but the boards are rough beneath my hands, and cold.

I walk over the ditch,
stand in front of your darkened door—
is there any magic left in this world?
Dare I knock?
But that would break the spell.
I stand there, paralyzed between two worlds,
breath suspended like time.
It feels like I’m standing on my own grave.

I have tried to steal time,
tried to bottle it in photographs,
then breathe into them
to make the figures resume their suspended movements.
But even the past moves on without me.
I’ve revived Grandma’s Pennsylvania Dutch recipes
to bottle time like strawberry preserves,
store it in present-tense poems
which are stillborn on the page—
because wrenching time this way
violates our most basic tenets:
like William Blake’s “Garden of Love,”
with “‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door.”
Driving here, I’ve wrenched open my heart like an offering
and been denied entrance.
Time punishes me for my attempts, stealing
the touch of your hands, the shape of your nails,
the distinctive jut of your nose,
your little crooked smile,
the long blond hair, flyaway as a wisp of dandelion,
the anxious pondering
in the washed-out blue of your eyes.
Photographs do not show these things, do not tell
the sharp rarity of your laugh,
do not give me words like
“I loved you from the start,”
do not show me anything but empty poses,
stiff mannequins,
no soul inside to lighten the shadows from the eyes.
Photographs lie.
They are my failed attempt at crawling back in time.
And I, with the wreckage of my life,
am beaten by that barrier
For my crime.

Adele Gardner (www.gardnercastle.com) loves watching samurai films and reading comics with cats. Their new poetry book, Halloween Hearts, is due out from Jackanapes Press, probably in October 2022.