Steering us in, she floats through the stillness
Of another heat-sagged afternoon,
The parlor's hard wood creaking beneath her weight
Like a cove in the shade of ancient oaks.
She has more patience old, and the subject
Of her husband's johnboat seems to gently drift
Into the confabulation. She's let herself go,
Gray perm, no lipstick, doesn't remember,
At least not aloud, miles of days like this,
The living strain between them, fighting him
Every inch. A river of words, now gossip
And Isn't that swell, and her shouted belittlements
About his lack of ambition vanish
The way he did, in the current up to his hips,
Coming back as an eternal flair
For angling. Once with even a whiff
Of fish talk she'd have claimed a need for air, left
The storm door swatting shut, slapped it all away,
Their life, like a cloud of gnats. Now,
A faint tremor in her hand when she reaches
For the photograph like someone who feels a tug,
She says she misses trout swimming in the pan.
Leaning, she shows us the silver god, heavy
And dangling from the lure beside him, both dwarfed
By her fingers. Sure as bragging, she stays
With her version, as if she'd always known
The trick to holding on was in the give.
The summer of shadows on blue film
And carcinoma—the word alone
Could infiltrate, until one lost breast
Became breeze and honeysuckle, the world.
Only thirty-five, she mourned herself
Like Proserpine, death's lover, the smooth skin
Of the pomegranate, her heart unadulterated,
Blameless for the scarlet blemish.
Than taut skin over ribs, she felt the dearth
In her husband, who'd turned miserly as a virgin
With his affections, that pound of flesh
Holding its worth out of all proportion.
They made no prosthesis for the subtle flinch
That wounded, a deep gap, a coldness that spread
To every word and look between them.
She found him grotesque, not in form
Or substance, handsome, his body hard
As ever—but in his actions, how he waited
To creep into bed until he thought
She'd gone to sleep, then turned to face
His side, missing both arms at least.
David Moolten's recent work has appeared in The Sewanee
Review and is forthcoming in The Georgia Review and The Southern Review.
His first book, Plums & Ashes, won the 1994 Samuel French Morse Poetry
Prize and appeared in that year (Northeastern University Press). He
is employed as a physician in Philadelphia where he lives with his wife