Literary Matters 10.3 (2018).




Before dawn even, zipping past the exit

to Myrtle Beach … That’s where my girlfriend was

who had a summer job there singing.

But I was heading north

to see Janet. Hot and muggy, the weather

changed at Richmond to rainy,

not with a torrent of blades but a drizzle of pins,

and chilly. I had to borrow a flannel shirt

from Janet—a man’s, which fit me. Janet was renting,

along with her college roommate

and one other girl, a townhouse in Georgetown.

Sometimes, while they were at work,

I’d venture afield to a gallery,

Corcoran, Phillips; mostly I browsed

the neighborhood bookstores and otherwise loitered.

I had to ask the girls, because I was getting

so many probing looks from guys,

if maybe I had an effeminate manner.

“You have,” she said, the matronly one whose name

escapes me, “just a nice face.” I slept

on the living-room sofa. Sunburned, itching like mad,

I’d scroll the peeling skin off my shoulders

and roll it into a little ball,

then flick it. Overhead, the women

were getting ready for bed, their heels

conveying thunder while I read by lamplight

a poem in Harper’s by Robert Penn Warren,

whom Janet and I and her housemate Felicia had met:

“A Problem of Spatial Composition,”

in which a hawk, like something divine,

unseen above a window-framed vista

composed of a stone scarp and forest,

at sunset enters the frame as if from forever

only to go “in an eyeblink.” My wife,

who was then my girlfriend, who sang at the beach

where noontide had blistered my shoulders—

my wife says it’s all about sex. Not Warren’s poem,

this story of mine. The thunder, having slung

flimsy bras across the shower rod,

puts up its feet—the women, nesting. Molting,

I clasp the neck of that shirt, whoever’s it is,

which I’ll shake out in the morning.

The weather whistles past windowsills

and under the door, and though it sings

like blades’ cold steel, I picture

within the lamplight’s moon on the ceiling

a hawk whose shrills are high noon’s killing rays.