The Penultimate: A Poem

I have a married friend who calls the love of his life
the Penultimate. He lives forever treasuring

the hallmark cards, theatre ticket stubs, and empty
perfume bottles--
all of which he keeps in a secret Nike shoebox.

I tell him not to worry about it,
"Margie would have been the end of you," I say.

And he tells me she is like Ray Bradbury,
(he loves Bradbury, even read Zen In The Art of

that all it takes is to let the impossibility of it
envelope you and warm you up like a vintage Chevy.

I love it when he talks this way,
it's as if a woman could be that six-year-old T-shirt

that evolved, changed its basic fabric code
to let the downy cotton feel like a mother's cradled

The Penultimate -- it's like knowing that last
that last orgasm, that last year is as good as it

then life becomes a steady stand-still, always careful
to let the sea flow back and forth from the toes,

hopeful, that if you wiggle the middle three,
that first rush of sand and water will show up again;

and you become a character from a Charlie Kaufman
screenplay, constantly thrown out of sorts,

with never enough down-time to masturbate or smoke
because you're caught in a perpetual flashback

But my splendid friend believes in the news, in fast
and in Studs Terkel and Ken Burns' baseball histories;

and he believes like healthy people believe the
of a hospital lies in its antiseptic smell and white

And whenever he calls her the Penultimate,
I think of the word penitent,

and sometimes I ask him,
"Well, are you penitent?"

He smiles and says the same thing every time,
"Penitent Man, like Indiana Jones in The Last

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