Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 100
“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”
my brows are disappearing like leaves
outside my late autumn window, leaving me
a new sea view. Will I see better without
those architectural guides, showing
consternation, fear, joy, surprise? Without
pencil and liquid dispenser, what could I depend on?
A bit of cover-up smooths, soothes the forehead,
softens the fuller nose. Blush, powder, lipstick,
I dab on; if this is ripeness, and “all“
I don’t want it. “Get used to it,“ a friend says.
Used to it? Powder, hardly ever. I remember
my mother’s caked compacts, I opened
and closed to see myself in the mirrors.
Foundation, I think of the undergarments
she wore: tight, encompassing, I leave off.
They seem to fill every crevice, pronouncing
them deeper more. Concealer, I use on the spots
rising like chicken pocks. Bronzer? I used to lie
on the beach sun tan oiled; I’m out of skin stock.
Yes, I say to even tone matte. Who doesn’t
want to look even toned? Who stayed, who left,
who lived, who died? The years go by, but I don’t?
Yes, give me the dewy glow, the contours
of twenty years ago, the high cheek bones,
chiseled chin, slender upturned nose, the high
forehead. “Do you want a makeover?“ I’m asked.
The spark in the large dark brown eyes remains.
I leave the counter unsurrendering,
but for $50 in supplies.
Copyright © 2017 by Paula Goldman.
As We Say Goodbye
Nominated for a Pushcart Prize
Your warm body in the cold sea, warm
a shivering me. I dive between your legs, circle
your slender girth, grasp your smooth shoulders,
all the tender width of you, as if
I were as supple as shoaling minnows.
Afterwards, scampering over stones, pebbles, sand,
beside the insistent roar of the water, drowning
our constant conversation, you bounce the beach’s
currency into the water, two, three times.
They skim the waves, the rising levels,
are not tides, you say, filling me with joy
at your side. How did it come to be this way?
The sharpness of your narrow blue eyes
lead you to creatures unknown to me.
Your steadily thinning hair, reveal a startling
naked self, pushing onward, never slacking, pushing beyond
your limits, or to the limit of all
you entail. A mortal who must face the dying day
as we say goodbye to all that is fluid,
to the end of this sequined salted sea.
Copyright © 2017 by Paula Goldman.
About the Author:
Paula Goldman has a master’s in journalism from Marquette University and an MFA from Vermont College. She is a docent and lecturer at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Her collection The Great Canopy won the Gival Press Poetry Award.Her work has appeared in the North American Review, Harvard Review, Poet Lore, Poet Miscellany, and in several anthologies. Her collection Wild Beasts was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, Gival Press Poetry Award, Brittingham Award and Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, New Rivers Press, and other competitions. She was born and raised in Atlantic City when the Atlantic Ocean was something then.
Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 100
In the mornings, once Ray and the McNeils have gone and the house is emptied of footsteps, voices just slightly lowered by sleep, jingling keys, I make my way down the backyard, down the embankment, usually a bowl of fruit and cereal in one hand and a mimosa of the strong sort in the other, and walk down to the pier where I sit and watch the waves and clear the music from my mind. Already the sun is up and half the lake is alive and flush with light, the waves rising and falling, flashing momentary diamonds that wink and sparkle, fulgurate and disappear, their patternless constellations as brief as they are random and changing by the thousands as the waves make their way toward the pier.
Fixed to this sight, I eat my breakfast and study them. Galaxies dancing, never appearing just where they were a second ago. Not once among the shifting points of fire do I ever see repetition, redundancy. No semblance of order, that governing something. Only the principle that when waves move they do not care to repeat themselves.
In the mornings before Ray leaves for his internship, he comes in and kisses me. Erratic footsteps, Mrs. McNeil’s heels clocking the final minutes until departure, ring richly in the den. Usually we have stayed out late the previous night, and despite his brushing his teeth a suggestion of beer or bourbon still clings to these farewell kisses, then follows him out the room. Then Mrs. McNeil’s last—minute roll call: Does everyone have lunch? Are the lights turned off? Is there food enough in the fridge for Portia? Then the jingle of keys—two sets, Mrs. McNeil’s and Ray’s—and the sidedoor shuts and the unlocking of and climbing into cars. First, Ray into his Dodge. The engine growls, but before completing its snarl last night’s song bursts on and overrides it. Even with all the windows closed I can hear the romp and stomp of Nashville country and any distance between myself and my boyfriend almost compensated by his turning up the stereo as he backs down the driveway and lurches down the sleepy street like a wild bull at a rodeo, and fades, and only then is the distance truly felt. Next the McNeils’. Barely a hiccup starts their Lexus, the windows sealed too well to allow voice to whatever the couple might be saying; and as silently as a snake reverses the car and slips away.
Now the house is mine. No footsteps, no preparative voices, no rushing echoes. The quiet strange and uncomfortable if it weren’t such a relief. Only the sound of bones cracking, a groan as I stretch awake. Though I’m staying in the room of Ray’s older brother converted to a guestroom, I could very well be the owner of the place.
After dressing and getting ready, I go to the den and open the great den window—perhaps the best part of my day—as though a stagehand—actress walking to the proscenium and pulling back the curtain, herself part of the play, unveiling the light and lake and waves to the house’s eerie silence, the spectacle and warmth and contrast to the stagnation here indoors almost audible, after which I make my drink and breakfast and walk down to the pier.
By the time the sun is fully up, it is hot, the lake cut through with boaters, skiers, joyriders, a dozen motors vying over who can scream the loudest, I-220 is busy with cars, people have begun to mow their lawns, and the time for relaxing has past. Usually I go up to the kitchen and wash my bowl in the sink and fix myself another mimosa, still insistent I don’t try to think and worry about music or practicing or school, and survey the house, pausing at family portraits and photos of baby Ray as I sip from my glass, trying not to look at the piano they have left open for me, wondering if I could ever own such china, such a table cloth, such a leather sofa, whether the McNeils might will us this gorgeous view or if it would go to Todd whom I could see would want to fight over it with Ray, and whether I will even be with Ray when the time comes for the McNeils to make their wills.
Sometimes I lie out on the backyard lawn and work on a tan, but more often than not I go for a stroll around the neighborhood. Strangely there are no sidewalks, so along the curb I go, sipping my mimosa, shambling along in the heat. The fringe of the lake waiting beyond the yards. The languid faces of houses dreary with lace curtains. The boxwood shrubs all crewcut before the windows. The lawns green and thriving in front of the windows. The mailboxes swarmed by the same wilted impatiens of interchanging purple and yellow. When I round the curb and sneak a peek inside I see the same bored helmet-haired housewives shouldering the same beige kitchen phones and watching the same daytime programs with characters speaking the same effusive monotone. Is this what awaits me on the other side of graduating? Is a good view of a lake and a luxury sedan worth it all? Is daytime television a taste I have yet to acquire like Schönberg?
In the afternoons, having rooted around in Ray’s things a few weeks ago and found the stack of letters I sent him last summer, I’ll read the smoke signals of my infatuation, often surprised by myself, the feelings and sincerity, yet even more shocked that back then Ray must have wanted me as much as I did him and was not put off by how easily this girl whom he just happened to have walked past that day in Benson and asked to dinner said she loved him too.
I got your letter today and was so happy I could have literally hugged the postman. When I opened your letter—you’re going to make fun of me—I smelled the paper to see if it smelled like you and sure enough it did, barely. I’m so glad that you and your friends are having fun fishing. Perhaps one day I’ll get to see Grand Isle with you and we can watch the porpoises come in and catch crabs (hah!) and go for walks on the muddy sand, looking out for “the hooks and dead catfish and beer bottles,“ as you say, together. I would love to eat what you catch. Things here have not gotten much better—if anything they’re worse—and now barely a dinner goes by without some awful shouting or accusation remembered from ten years ago and laid bare on the table for the other to justify or counter with some worse long-harbored accusation. It causes me to miss you. Please know that I’m looking forward to your call and pray that the next two months hurry so I can leave this hell for the heaven of your arms.
Yours in love,
PS: If you can, spray the next letter with your Davidoff and I will smell it when IFMTY.
Thank you for your words and for always being so quick to provide encouragement. I like your idea about moving out and finding a place of my own, somewhere not choked with yelling and fighting, and better, somewhere where we can spend lots of time together whenever you come and visit, where we can simply appreciate the air of another’s company. In answer to your question: yes, I have been at work, composing. In the catalog of my Werke Verzeichnis, this is PWV 143, a new sonata in which you can hear traces of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 15, a smattering of Chopin’s Mazurka in D, a dash of Liadov, and even a brief nod to Elton John. I would love to play it for you when next I see you—though only if finished. I’m hoping Dr. Ralston will help arrange an on-campus performance for the fall, but I won’t dare ask until I’ve played him the piece. I’ll let the music move him into agreeing.
I would love to write you more but Terrell just walked in and I promised I’d be her date for a Friday night on Broadway. As you know, only for those true friends I deeply care about do I subject myself to the uninurable swill you all deem music. Ernest Tubb, here I come!
I hope you are doing well and had a capital Saturday night. My apologies for cutting my last letter so short, as I was planning on writing you much longer. Now it is Sunday and yesterday’s won’t go out until tomorrow, so you won’t get this until sometime later this week—that is, if I don’t decide to send them both together, which I may very well end up doing.
Going out last night proved a load of laughs and an excellent shift from the register at home. Like I think I mentioned, we went down Broadway and cruised the honkytonks with all the boot-wearing, Stetson-toting tourists until we landed at this one that wasn’t quite as egregious as the others. Terrell charmed her way into getting us free drinks and we spent much of the night dancing—even (gasp!) linedancing—so much that even a strap broke on my shoe! Then we went to Love Circle and watched the skyline and ate at Brown’s and talked of you, my dearest love. I haven’t had such fun since you were here in May! You the only person who could have made the night more wonderful (that or sidestepping to Gershwin), you the only other person in the world whom my just seeing brings such incredible, immense joy, whose face I could look upon an entire lifetime and consider a life well-spent, for whom I would do anything to ensure his happiness, even if it meant moving to Alaska or never again hearing music. Please know how wonderful I think you, how lucky I am to be yours, how I admit I’ll never come close to deserving you, and vow to do everything I can to please you, show you how grateful and beautiful you make me feel. No one else in the world exists whom I’d rather be with, and if there should ever arise any reason why I should upset you or cause confusion, you must promise to tell me at once and scold me for being so thoughtless, for I would hate to be the one who has (inadvertently) tarnished this precious jewel. You are truly my immortal beloved, as I hope to remain yours. Please know that I will love you forever, more than words can justly express.
Yours, yours, yours
No one has picked up the phone for the last six days, and I haven’t received any of your wonderful letters in what feels like eons. I recall your saying you were going to Destin with your relatives at some point, but I forget if that’s this week. If you are there, please write to me or call just so I know everything’s okay. I’m looking forward to the fall only because I don’t have to be so greedy then for your presence.
Yours in love,
The other day Ray’s old spinster aunt Aunt Cathy drove up from Natchitoches with her Chow, and the five of us took the boat on the lake for another day of mixed drinks and summer sun.
First they pulled out the tube.
Dragging a gleeful Ray howling while Aunt Cathy’s dog barked and barked, we went faster, skirted the columns of the I-220 bridge, zigzagged over our wakes until eventually Ray relented and fell off, the weight of him palpably lifted from the boat. When we pulled alongside him he insisted I join him for round two.
“I’m content just watching, thanks.“
“What? The action is right here. Dad won’t go very fast, will you? Come on, Porsche. I promise you you’ll love it.“
“I won’t go very fast,“ said Mr. McNeil.
I jumped in and climbed on beside.
“Just make sure that when you hold on you aren’t rubbing the handles with your knuckles. If you do they’ll bleed and the water’ll make them scar for some weird reason. See, look at mine.“
Then the boat began to accelerate, the rope grew taut, and suddenly we were being pulled and I felt the foam of water cascading among my toes, my hair flying out and whipping my neck. Lashes bent back as other boaters saw us, saluted. I looked at Ray and we both grinned and kissed, and not long afterward I fell off.
Later that afternoon, idling past mansions with families of rooms serried on the waterfront, the McNeils gave me the tour of lake society, the doctors and lawyers whose parties they attended and whose cotillion balls Todd and Ray were forced into dancing at, whose daughter Ray took to prom, reigned as queen of such and such Mardi Gras krewe, or would come to babysit them and bring them cupcakes. A few of the mansions had been bought by famous movie stars, though most looked dead or dormant, their residents gone, as the McNeils informed me, on vacation to a far off place and better like Hilton Head or Cancun, so it was only us there on the boat, which was fine with me.
That night, once the waiter had taken our dessert plates, Aunt Cathy said she had a special surprise for Ray.
“Did your parents tell you I was in Oklahoma City last month, helping Willie May with Aunt Irene’s funeral?“
“They did. And the reason I haven’t asked you was that I didn’t want to upset you. Though I never knew I could lay claim to a Great-Aunt Irene until last month.“ He sought his parents, but it was getting late and most everyone was starring, hypnotized by the tablecloth. That sort of drunk where someone could be speaking dire importance but until they utter your name at you directly you continue on rather oblivious.
“Your great-aunt was a tremendous individual. A tremendous individual. For her whole life she always was very fashionable. People from all over the country would come just to ask her what it was they should wear. She never stepped foot outside her door, not even for the newspaper, without having on her pearls in exactly the way she wanted them. She pretty much insisted we bury her in her jewelry box. And she wanted you to have this.“
At which point she handed Ray an envelope. He opened it: inside was a velvet box. I knew what it should be before he did; it was about as surprising as the Surprise Symphony. If I could have I would have pulled Ray aside and asked him to decline it, alarmed that this distant relative, a person whom Ray had never met in his life, had bequeathed to him such a portentous object. It turned out to be his great-aunt’s wedding ring of course.
“Whoa, it’s a ring.“
Mr. and Mrs. McNeil perked up. Their lush eyes found us, their faces bright and angry.
“And now it’s yours. She wanted you to have it.“
“How did this woman even know my name?“
“It’s eighteen-karat gold. Great-Uncle Nick got it for her when he was working in Chicago, when he was there in the thirties.“
“Can I see?“ said Mrs. McNeil. Ray passed her the wedding ring. For a while she just sat there looking at it, as though curious perhaps about its value or its history. Then as she continued staring, it seemed a more abstract form of curiosity. Searching for the item’s usefulness, the tradition itself of rings. Or perhaps flummoxed by the many years she’d been wearing her own she had disassociated ring from a ringed finger, had forgotten the two could abide as separate entities. To me the whole situation felt like something I had started, some trouble of my doing. It felt like up until now I had been treated fair enough and tolerated, but with the advent of the wedding ring suddenly all my inadequacies, more humble background, and mismatched qualities appeared on a scale contra the ring and that light hoop of gold weighed more by tons than all I could hope to offer.
“Well,“ she passed the wedding ring back to Ray, “whoever wears this must be very special,“ she said, glancing at me, the must I heard seeming the criteria that excluded me. I glanced at my finger, extended it, and it was then I noticed my knuckles had become raw and bloodied from tubing.
As we were trying to fall asleep, Ray sidled over, stroking my arm, the two of us lying in the darkness and listening to the chorus outside his window of a thousand crickets and bullfrogs that sounded like two distinct layers of mad—a perpetual alarm clock and a group of children throat chanting—when he whispered in my ear, “How bout first three notes?“ I was anything but in the mood.
“Maybe tomorrow,“ I murmured. “All that sun today wore me out, and your family.“
But the truth of it was that since our drive home from the restaurant, a bizarre train of thought had led me to an even more bizarre conclusion: Was I really in love with Raymond? Half-awake, my mind rattling against the window, Ray’s terrible paeans by make-believe cowboys impossible to ignore, I wondered if we were right. If one’s taste in music indeed shows a depth of soul, then my boyfriend’s was hopelessly shallow. His was an appetite easy to please, and mine the more fastidious. Where would we end up in ten years and who would be doing the musical cooking? Either way, one of us would get malnourished and likely resentful they had changed their diet to accommodate the other’s. I didn’t want either of us to be resentful. Better to end it on a note respectful, of love and polite goodwill, than begin to protract our union, adding years of bitterness and torture, to corrupt a brief but better thing.
And this had led me to my next and most disturbing thought: Would I really care if Raymond died? If tomorrow I got the message that my boyfriend had been killed in a horrible car accident would I even shed a tear? I imagined all of us gathered around the coffin. The day overcast and the graveyard barren except our party of mourners, family and relatives and the deceased’s closest fraternity brothers. Terrell there to lend support. I imagined the coffin lowering into the earth, Mrs. McNeil’s sniffling and her husband holding her, neither of them able to comprehend, assimilate, the vast injustice of the death of their second-born son, this terrible tragedy—but me, would I hardly care? What would I be thinking? Would I be bowled over with grief? I tried to put myself in the shoes of myself mourning, to view myself in black and nesh there, graveside. All I would be thinking about, I decided, was What am I eating for dinner? I could bring myself to imagine no grieving thought, no profound and inexorable sense of sorrow, no notion of loss, confusion, despondence, no idea of relief or even thankfulness, only What am I having for dinner afterward?
For the next few weeks we continued going out late. Meeting up with Ray’s old high school friends at some bland sports bar, at a bridge party in the middle of nowhere, at someone’s camp on Caddo Lake, the whole time with me wondering if I should unveil my new discovery and break my boyfriend’s heart that I would not be shedding a tear at his funeral, that in fact I couldn’t really care less. With news like that, I couldn’t expect him to take it anything like lightly. The truth was that once I mentioned it we would soon be splitting up and I would head back home to finish the summer alone in Nashville, the chances of one’s lover recovering from an insight such as I don’t love you seeming rather slim.
But did I really not love him? Or was my discovery the accident of an enormous chain of events, the outcome of several aggregates beyond my control—my uncertainty about my future, what I would write my honor’s thesis on, whether I would apply to graduate school this fall—and calling it quits with Ray, my boyfriend, that animated dust, would only prove a poor substitute for grappling with these larger issues and ultimately solve nothing? I needed to think, to deliberate the pros and cons at an impartial distance before hoping to reach any judgment on the nature of my relationship, but everything around me reminded me of Ray and my pathetic theoretical not-grief. Thus, unable to make up my mind, I persisted in a state of indifference, stultified, only certain that I was lying to Ray by acting insincerely, by telling him I loved him when I had set forth to myself clearly that I did not, and also lying to the McNeils by feigning I loved their son, which thereby had given me access to their undeserved love (or at least the beginning of an affection, their attention) and which caused me to feel all the more repugnant to myself.
I was getting in from one of my walks when I saw their car parked in the driveway. It turned out Mrs. McNeil had taken off early because of a migraine, but already, she told me, she was feeling a whole lot better.
“Sometimes I think just working in people’s mouths all day makes me sicker than I would be. By that I mean not some of the halitosis—which, believe me, can be just wretched, to say the least—but the news droning on, the drills and screaming babies who come in. If it weren’t Jim’s practice, you bet I’d be long gone. Jim just thinks I’m a hypochondriac.“
We sat in the den. Beyond her the lake looked calm and beautiful, its millions of coruscating galaxies twinkling and subdued in the late afternoon sun. Entranced I must have seemed, for she turned and followed my gaze.
“Oh, I’m interrupting you. Why didn’t you go on and say something? You know it never crossed my mind you’d be wanting to practice when I came home. Go on and play, Portia. I mean it. It’s really not going to disturb me in the least bit. I promise my headache’s almost gone, and anyway I’d love to hear you play. Ray keeps on telling me you’re really very good. Go on and play something.“
“Yikes,“ I said. “Thanks but no thank you. I haven’t been in the mood lately to do much practicing.“
Above their gorgeous Steinway hung a painting, an Impressionistic scene of Venice. A canal flanked by two buildings joined by a typical bridge. As she’d been talking, I’d counted fourteen separate colors in the water. I could nearly smell the salt sea breeze emanating from the oil, hear the lilting voices of Italian children calling window to window, catch shimmering strains of Josquin and Vivaldi. I longed to walk there inside.
“Okay, I give up. But you do have to play for me before you go back to school. We had the piano tuned specially for you. It’s not the piano, is it? Is it bad?“
“No, no, not at all.“
“You’re sure?“ she said, her voice an offended tremor.
“It’s a great piano. I just haven’t felt much like playing. Maybe in a few days.“
She looked at me with a speechlessness like wrath. I had hurt her. Then she smiled and a few minutes later she went to take some medicine and I was relieved I hadn’t played for her and disturbed her after all.
Soon Ray came back with Mr. McNeil, and soon he had called his friends and arranged for us to meet them at a pub downtown. We ate dinner at Herby-K’s, easily the coolest place Ray had shown me. The two of us eating in silence, I thought about how I didn’t understand why anyone could deliberately seek fine dining in a city unrenowned for food. To dine on cheap cuisine made much more sense, the menus of the working class proving genuine and not the French boeuf and canard that was preferred by people like Ray’s parents who ignored the flavors that granted the region at least a hint of uniqueness. Like a music hunter traveling to Egypt and insisting the locals play Saint-Saëns.
The night passed as had many: meeting up with Ray’s old friends at one bar before moving on to the next, then the next, then more (who knows, it could have tallied eight or twelve), and during the course of the night I was transformed not so much into the third wheel but the only, around which spun stories and told solely with the purpose of amusing me but really bordered on the pathetic, mostly oafish things they’d done when drunk—the only wheel I say because my “Are y’all ready to go?“ or “I think it’s time we might leave“ implied movement toward some energy, but these polite attempts to wheedle Ray into going were taken as summonses that we continue to the next pub or round of drinks—and eventually these stories wore me down and broke me and in my inebriation I too settled into the stasis, the revolving banter of drunken stories, so that by the time we did manage to leave for home I’d been rendered quite drunk and didn’t care we were finally going.
I recall as we headed back, going down Fannin Street, seeing a sign on the road through the darkness and asking Ray to pull the truck over, which he wouldn’t have done unless I’d lied and told him I had to vomit. The sign read: “Fannin Street was once one of the three borders that formed St. Paul’s Bottoms, the red-light district that thrived at the turn of the century and fostered the careers of musicians like Huddie ’Lead Belly’ Ledbetter.“ I’d disremembered I’d known this, that this fact had even once been part of the reason for my attraction to Ray a year ago, after I had heard at Dr. Ralston’s—just a couple weeks before meeting Ray—Lead Belly and learned about his time on Fannin Street and with the image and songs of the folk singer still strumming in my fancy had wittingly decided I might enjoy seeing the stomping grounds of a musical legend while dating somebody reared on the same soil. Obviously all that had changed.
The rest of the night passed in its typical way—although Ray and I had been dating for fifteen months, lately I had taken it upon myself to instruct him how to become an accomplished player of the female body, and the night’s lesson had again demonstrated his need of practice before becoming the virtuoso I wanted—and then within what felt like twisted seconds everyone was awake, the house filling with readying-for-work noises. But this time on waking I found I myself had a reason to get out of bed. Ray crept in; I could tell it surprised him to see me dressing.
“You’re up early. I thought sleeping was your new hobby.“
I tried not to look too elated.
“I think I’m going to head back up to Nashville. Just for a few days. I have an idea what I want to do my honor’s thesis on, and I was thinking maybe I could go and run it past Dr. Ralston, and if he doesn’t can the whole idea then I’ll bring it back down with me for something for me to work on.“
The previous night, finding that sign on Fannin Street, had given me the perfect subject for a paper. So perfect it was I had woken and found everything in place. My awake brain had done nothing. Simply opening my eyes this morning had revealed the topic and the outline.
Nearly a year ago, on the same night Dr. Ralston had played Lead Belly, he had played several other blues records, 78s he’d collected as a young man, two of which were by the country bluesman Johannes Woodgait, someone whom Dr. Ralston said had never cut any more but those four sides. As far as he knew, no one had ever unearthed any biographical information on him, no threadbare detail or evidence of the man save the Depression-era records, but whose four songs, my advisor lauded, “constituted a better perfect than any of his contemporaries, laments inspired by the divine.“ Apparently the public seemed to think otherwise; there had grown no demand for his music, the two 78s that Dr. Ralston had found being the only two originals he’d ever exhumed.
That night ended with him making me a copy of those songs on cassette, but since then they had lain unplayed in my car. I’d forgotten how they went and their titles. Nevertheless, my great idea was this: what if I could actually find a piece of biographical information on Johannes Woodgait, track down the company who’d made his records, from there find out the type of character he’d been when he’d recorded and where he’d been residing, then go to that city and interview his friends and family. Would not that discovery earn me at least an article in some prestigious journal? With that on my resume I would get into any graduate school of my choice and that would make the decision about what exactly I was to do with my life easy, solved. The whole idea felt like it was meant to be, like it had been delivered by an emissary from heaven, was the writ of a holy hand, because I had been given it without consciously arranging it: I simply woke and it was there.
All this I told to Ray, and though I could sense he thought my plan, his girlfriend a trifle weird—and very possibly I was—he acted supportive and asked if he could help in any way.
“You can help me pack my bag.“
We packed just the one. The others would remain since I’d be back in maybe a week.
Wide-awake and thrilled at the thought of my new adventure, my coalescing future, I was set to walk out the door ahead of the McNeils.
I went to Ray’s room to tell him goodbye, and on going in my heart stopped a beat when I saw he had taken out the wedding ring and was mulling it over. Handling it as though it posed a riddle of which he could not suspect the answer, a piece of curiosity, or perhaps a soul of which he was determining the moral fiber. I walked in, unsure what I would say. But he began before I could speak.
“I was thinking about pawning it. I don’t know how much it’s really worth, but I was thinking we could take the money and go on a vacation somewhere. You said you’ve never been to Jackson Hole. I was thinking that’s what we should do: go on a vacation to Jackson Hole together. Take the money to go on a trip.“
My cheeks flushed and I kissed him, about to cry, and the two of us stood there for a while, holding each other and rocking, myself wondering how I had been this lucky to find this kind and thoughtful person, this handsome, wonderful man, how I did deserve such a lover, and I told him not to worry, that the summer had been all the vacation I’d needed, that he and his family were a far better vacation than the two of us together in Jackson Hole, and that he should hold on to the ring lest he disturb the spirit of his great-aunt. We laughed and kissed again.
After putting my bag in the car, I said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. McNeil, who seemed rather surprised to see me leaving abruptly and may have suspected Ray and I had fought or gotten into an argument during the night, but I assured them I’d be returning in just a few short days, that I was leaving for strictly an academic sake. Then, having moved my cassettes to the seat beside me, which included Dr. Ralston’s cassette of Woodgait, I started my car and the first tape of music and waved the McNeils goodbye.
How Long? is from The Late Recordings of Johannes Woodgait
Copyright © 2017 by Devin Jacobsen.
About the Author:
Devin Jacobsen has been published in The Advocate and The Licking River Review, and he won the 2009 Andrew Nelson Lytle Award for Southern Literature. Readers who enjoyed Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Charles Frazer's Cold Mountain, and Kathryn Stockett's The Help would enjoy his work. He is currently a student at Harvard Divinity School.
Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 100
Winner of the 2017 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award
Nominated for a Pushcart Prize
“Some homosexuals claim infallibility in identifying others of their kind ‘by the eyes—there’s a look that lingers a fraction of a second too long.’” “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern” The New York Times, December 17, 1963
Hail the lingering fraction that secured us,
the inborn longing that led us to one another,
one by one on the street corners,
under the glowing lamps of the inviting city.
Praise the strength of a spirit that attempted to believe,
that ventured forth from body to body,
when the law and word was to condemn,
to revile, to electrocute a mind so wedded to love.
Holy the glimmer of recognition
in the eyes of those we sought,
who reflected back that fraction of belonging,
who spoke without words
what the heart would dare admit.
Copyright © 2017 by Dan Vera.
About the Author:
Dan Vera is a writer, editor, and literary historian. He's co-editor of Imaniman: Poets Writing In The Anzalduan Borderlands (Aunt Lute); author of Speaking Wiri Wiri (Red Hen Press), the inaugural winner of the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize; and author of The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Books). His work is featured on the Poetry Foundation website; included in college and university curricula; published in various journals including Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, and Beltway Poetry Quarterly; and appears in The Travelers Vade Mecum, Queer South, and other anthologies. The recipient of awards from the DC Commission of the Arts & Humanities, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vera publishes other poets through Poetry Mutual Press and Souvenir Spoon Books, co-curates DC Writers’ Homes, and chairs the board of Split This Rock Poetry. For more, visit www.danvera.com.