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.