V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





As I recall, he wasnât willing to bail
on anything, not least the idea of marriage.
Sailing the bay with his sister and his parents,
I replied to his mother who used the word veneficial
"What does that word mean?" his intellect hot on the trail,
"And how do you know a word I donât?" Off her chair slid
his sister, laughing, "My god, sheâs your wife, not a parrot!"
He managed to smile, though poisoned by betrayal.
What should I say to ex-wife number two?
"He wouldnât come to counseling when I asked him to,"
I offer up, then hear her scoff, "I wish
heâd done the same with me. Iâm so damn pissed.
He admitted that he lied to our therapist.
I paid for that!" Talk about billets-doux.

"I paid for that talk."  As for bills come due,
he was buying time. Turns out we both nicknamed him
Golden Boy, just after we stakeclaimed him ÷
his thick head of hair and charm ÷ from an earlier fool.
"Trouble like water off a duck" heâd say.
He gave anxiety itself the slip.
Once, a handshake got him a scholarship.
Maybe pole vaulting taught him how to pray
upside down, propelling himself through air.
Or maybe sailing taught him he should catch
the wind for speed. Maybe he had to fib
like when, fourteen, heâd rig the backyard latch
so he could sneak out sans parental care.
But why? Did he do anything? He did.

But why did he do anything he did?
Remember his patient instructions for driving stick:
the logic of gears, the grace of a smooth downshift.
He stayed calm on the hills, no matter how far back we slid.
His favorite cookbook was The Frugal Gourmet.
He rarely repeated mistakes and laughed till aching
at mock dog snack commercials of my making.
He loved the film Sex, Lies, & Videotape.
His best, his worst÷alluring ingredients
I still canât detect.  I tell his wife (whoâs riled
up anyway) how we met for breakfast last year.
"I know" she says, too clipped, the edges tense.
"And later, on errands, did he disappear?"
I was in my hotel room when he called.

"When I was in my hotel room, he called."
"He called on that same day?" (I was surprised
but pleasantly. During breakfast weâd tried
remembering our landlordâs name, a bald
Irish cop, retired ÷ a fair and solid
sort of guy who hadnât overpriced 
our place like he mightâve. Was recalling his name a guise?
Or was it wrong for me to feel appalled?)
"Yes. And we talked for maybe 20 minutes,
but his voice was reedy, and I heard electric
buses switching lines, folks talking. To pin it
down, I asked where he was for our tête á tête ÷
a pay phone outside a drug store." His old trick
acquiring new interest like an unpaid debt.

© by Kathrine Varnes


Contributor's note
Next page
Table of contents
VPR home page