By: Jesse Wolfe
Her brown curls heaped on the pillow,
the comforter sprawled below her breasts.
She fled into her magazine.
For a minute, motionless, he stood.
Starlings chattered in the walnut tree.
In days they decided on a baby.
It was not the last “decision.”
As, like coils of hair, they each unraveled
in stories too intricate for pianos or flutes,
he strained to envision that tableau
(the floral bed spread they bought in Berkeley;
her lips almost closing, moving back apart
as she subvocalized; his own feet sunk
into the carpet)
in successive surrogates of that home:
their beach bungalow in Venice,
their box apartment in Japan …
She lingered in the garage, assembling
their grandson’s tricycle.
He’d be out of his wheelchair next month, or not.
They’d live to see the child’s graduation, or not.
Their years living apart
would come to seem natural—an exhalation—
or always hurtful and capricious.
He returned to his music stand.
For a week he’d been practicing
the first movement of this piece by Roussel.
He could be in high school again.
Focus, repetition. No expectations
save one note tilting toward the next.
We last fucked two summers ago.
Downstairs, I was bent over the couch,
the dishwasher was running.
I savored it all day. But I’m never in the mood.
Does Charlie tally his days in the desert?
We’ve grown more considerate
as we’ve grown less interested.
He’s alone with his Kindle upstairs,
I’m down here with MSNBC.
The backyard redwoods look statelier
since we installed our sprinkler line.
While engaged, we drove the length of the country
twice. Tossing softballs at rest stops,
frisbees at parks off of highways.
Once we did it in a woodland,
up against a tree, behind a restaurant.
Even the bickering was good:
I rehearsed how patriots are scoundrels,
he said cynics are lazy.
The land ravished me.
We rode in a helicopter over the Badlands,
a moonscape in desert tones.
In Yellowstone, bison browsed fifty feet from our car.
On Mount Zion we watched a rainstorm,
five miles off, spill from the sky
in a perfect cylinder. We read messages in nothing.
All our friends from those years have kids.
Why deviate from a script
if you can’t improve the final act?
I can pinpoint each item in the house.
Cranberry mustard? Second fridge-door shelf,
third jar from the front.
Charlie remembers each electric bill
to the penny.
In two weeks we’ll have solar:
harnessing the sun to feel righteous!
For nearly a year, all we did was drive.
In photos, Charlie hardly looks younger:
less skin under his jaw, a slightly less narrow face.
My frame’s the one that drooped.
We thought—in those bodies, in those places,
just because we were us—pleasure would unspool
for thousands of miles, highway after highway,
a sentence without a period.
Like myriad pairs of compass needles,
pines and their shadows part
(almost) at evening.
At night in our canvas,
I imagine them embittered,
asleep feet to feet.
Supine in reverse at dawn,
the dark partners rise toward embrace,
indistinguishable by noon.
The same performance every viewing
I like most with you seated
quietly beside me on a stone.
Why continue blaming lovers
(what they mean as utterly
as sun bathing a valley
then not doing? Rivers twist
I could argue: listeners err
where wind slips
around locked doors, spills
off balconies, splashes
drenches awnings, parks, and alleys.
My words, though not born
in absolute light,
should still carry.
It has been many years
since I mis-named myself
as daringly as they.
We can still lie
on beanbags on the floor,
watch fog wash up the hill,
imagine seals barking and responding
to each other with perfect understanding.
One and the same
tomorrow as today,
I will remain nearby
to answer your quotidian queries
Elsewhere on the hill,
younger men and women—
and confound each
other, each moment that divides
them swept—before a sentence lands
on its intent—in a flurry
toward the bay.
“Having tried and failed twice
to get married,” he said, “this time—”
and dropped the sentence, his mind off—
like when we were roommates two decades ago—
topic to topic—like wild deer in the woods
just outside his home in Culver City.
He was excessively wealthy by then—
in want of a wife, he knew enough to joke.
In spite of all, I still envied him,
still in a baseball cap, still thin, smiling
in his ambiguous way. I never followed him.
Elle, he said, fell in love
when she took his San Fran seminar,
stalked him for a year. We were downtown,
walking past glass-faced condos. Glancing his way,
I could see our bodies stretch and shrink.
“But do I want that script: one house, kids?”
This was after his famous commercial
about the off-road vehicle, but before my favorite
about the pain meds, with the old couple
remembering when they first married.
I couldn’t help seeing it as confessional,
though of course he didn’t write it.
I thought Elle would be a sound partner
and never believed she could stalk a man.
(She was already carrying her umbrella
more days than not, even in sun.)
Even before their own families,
they announced their engagement to me.
We stood in their kitchen sipping wine;
he recounted their meeting—
at a bus stop; it was snowing; he danced—
and a ski trip they took the next month …
Patient (as one should be, in love),
she watched him gesture as if viewers
had gathered in rows on the front lawn.
We wondered where his mind would swerve next.
Jesse Wolfe is a professor of English at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy (Cambridge UP, 2011) and the recipient of an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Wolfe is the winner of the Hill-Müller Poetry and August Derleth Poetry Contests, and his work has been published in New Millennium Writings, Penumbra, Red River Review, River Poets Journal, Henniker Review, Shanti, and elsewhere.