This is the lane
where every home wears a hedgerow;
garden gates hang ajar. A man
thrashes wet shellac against a fence
while neighbor kids cackle in the thicket.
This is the market square
where venders hawk vegetables.
This is the church where we were
to marry. The steeple still probes the sky.
This is the tree by the river
where you kissed me first.
Seedlings clutch at dirt as dark clouds sag.
Here stood the footbridge
where I took your hand.
You pulled it back and went to Prague,
and took that bridge with you.
This is me, still sighing
to see your linens wriggle on the line,
to call to you, and together
we’d rush to pull the wash.
Instead, you scuttle Czech streets;
I vodka tonic,
and massive fluffs engulf the grey putty.
* * * * * *
This poem was written in January 2004 and it first appeared in print a few months later. Its genesis was a torrid breakup in the early 90s. While I've enjoyed an average number of relationships in life (I'll assume), there have been only a few incendiary loves.
Now, in my writing there is often an identifiable connection to my life and experiences, but that connection is tertiary to the needs of the individual topic and the requirements of the mechanical aspects of the piece. I grew up in a town of about 30,000 people, a part of a larger metro area of a quarter million people. As an adult I have always lived in a fairly large city. For some reason, recurring imagery in my poems casts me (or the speaker ...whatever) as having lived in the rural Midwest: small town, farm boy and all that. Uh, no. I've never been sure of where that comes from, other than being a construct of my interests and mindset.
Nevertheless we stroll, you and I (shudder)
. Even back in 2004 when I wrote that line, I was ambivalent about it. In fact, it has come and gone so many times over the years that it has now become transparent. If you hold your computer screen close to your face (you may do so now) you will be able to look through the font of that one line and you'll see into a candlelit bedroom wherein a lonely poet sits penning verse of emotional longing into a book with a padded cover.
The next stanza starts setting a scene. Most of this poem seems to be setting the scene. I can see in this poem an interest in the phonemic patterns and structures of language which are currently forefront in my writing. Thrashing wet shellac is more about language than about village life, and coupled with kids cackling in the thicket, the images were my attempt to capture a bit of Norman Rockwell Americana undergirded by a darker, quietly festering scaffold. Sylvia Plath wrote a poem in which there is "Viciousness in the kitchen! / The potatoes hiss. / It is all Hollywood, windowless, / The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine."
I've always loved the image of the seedlings by the river: dark rain clouds are descending, the air is charged with a pre-storm electricity, and the little sprouts clutch into the moist soil to brace themselves for an onslaught. I wouldn't write an image like that now, but for the era from which it comes it was an inspired thought.
The footbridge is an actual place in Minneapolis' Loring Park, though the holding of the hand occurred between two friends, one of whom I had a crush on. I appropriated the image and recast the actors playing the roles. A girlfriend I had loved did in fact dump me to travel around Europe. In a wistful moment, the poet/speaker imagines a life of domesticity under similar atmospheric conditions, BUT... reality intrudes: she's gone, he drinks to forget (or is it to remember?) The large clouds wrap and consume his thoughts.
First published in The Rapids Review: A Literary Magazine, 2004.