Among his people, you are not
who traversed the university pool
end-to-end, while the merman in him
sang his body out across the liquid.
In those ordered meters, straight lines
into the future were simple to navigate.
Each cool, clean stroke, hand-over-hand.
You plashed between practice, calling Marco
Polo was easy enough, following the direction
of his voice, the accent of anticipation
enough to spin you dizzy, this playing blind.
Grasping for his side, the slippery fish swam away,
you shivered in the pull of the swirl
he cut through the chlorine, all dorsal fins.
You laughed at the ease of your enchanted ocean
that bordered no village except the seaside town
he carried on his tongue, “It is beautiful there,
bella, bella.” You believed his mother would welcome
America with open arms, would run her hands down
your straight blonde hair, practicing English in the quaint
way movie characters do, “so pree-tee, miss, so
pree-tee.” The lies you told yourself:
that you would sweep progress through this provincial
town, that every afternoon would include a funicular ride
cresting the mountains, a picnic basket on your arm-
in-arm ambles through Tuscan sunflowers, just like calendars’
open pages on your Massachusetts desk, you left
for your sister after the wedding, with a note
that read, “I will not need this where I am going.”
You were wrong even about that, you most need a space
to write what went wrong, how there is nothing
but water here and none of your sensuous sea.
His mother won’t look your way once. At dinner last night,
your new brother made wavy motions with his hands,
then pointed to you, licking his lips, while your husband
shared an opinion you could not translate until the two
smacked each other, amiably, on the shoulders. Everyone
around the table laughed and laughed, but you
looked down at your plate. Alone in your English thoughts,
you already occupied a bench near the sandy shore, splashing
your toes in the icy aqua, dreaming of drowning, now that
you’ve gone and thrown yourself into deep water.
Tonight, amber the light
spilling from the studio’s
window exposing the soul of a room,
barren, but as I moved past I turned once in motion,
I admit, to peer a bit longer into the empty
for the friction of the maestro’s touch
at Steinway for a moment, as if You,
personification of August afternoon aria,
resided there, unlocking key of the keys,
a muse in sound which writers dream to pen.
Yes, you as adagio I strained for just then,
met by the slap of my soles descending in the dark,
sharp as staccato stars jabbing the night’s staff,
sidewalk beneath me was the rhythm of
my one heart beating in time to itself, I walked on by
the window where you ceased to play, another season ago
has swept you as a song away, but I, the fermata, hold--
the note in case, in some October frosted amble,
you are humming the same tune as then.
The Heart of Africa
I.M. and L.M.
They met in the Peace Corps.
She was twenty-two, descendent of
a New England Brahmin,
he a medical student. His parents were
Hungarian; he, a first-generation
American from Houston, serving in Senegal.
She was the only teacher in the rural village
fluent in English and French when
little Patrice turned sick with fever,
she was the only available translator
to accompany him to the field hospital.
Later that day, the boy’s parents sent her
a goat to show their gratitude,
the goat that was their livelihood, she knew, so
she sent it back. She already had her reward
in the doctor’s appreciative once-over
as she cradled the child, cooing in
his native tongue, Il serai bien, il serai bien,
mon petit chou. It was well indeed
when the intern handed her one paper
with the name of the ailment and the medicine
he had given the boy, and another, in his
strong, slanting script, with a name and address,
“That second one, there, is for you.” He mumbled,
“In case...,” then turned away from her
for the first time. Both American, both
piecing together a global village. They married
in her parents’ backyard in
Massachusetts two years later, living forever close
to the Francophone Heart of Africa.
Writer, Modern America
She stops to fill ’er up, as the neon billboard announces
fifty miles to the next sleepy wayside town. Sunday
at noon, just passing through, a two o’clock workshop
appointment to keep, but the ideas always come
at the most incongruous times, in the shower, mid-dream,
during her 10 am Tuesday lecture on 21st Century Poetics:
The Writer in Modern America, at this full-service station.
At least today she has her notebook on the passenger’s seat,
she had almost buckled it in before leaving home.
The royal blue leather binding with L. M. May, PhD., her
moniker, embossed discreetly on the lower left-hand side,
a present from her sister at the latest graduation.
The gauge now reads full, but she is not yet,
her fuel a different kind of liquid energy:
her fountain pen pouring an arc of ink, setting
the engine’s spark in slanting script, when she hears
the abrupt tapping on her window. The attendant
wears a used smile under his moustache, leans in
too close, “What you doing, girl? Writing a love letter?”
The page goes blank. There is nothing more for her
to say. She closes the book, swiftly drives away.