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Three Poems from ‘Marriage’David Harsent
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Vol. 20 No. 23 · 26 November 1998

Three Poems from ‘Marriage’

David Harsent

706 words

But arrive like this: a sudden
shadow on the washed-out fleur-de-lis
that paper the breakfast room; a form half-hidden

by some other form, the angle
of a door, perhaps, unless I think to make it
a shutter, half-open, by which I leave you a single

arm, single eye, single breast, a single link of the scallop-
and-anchor motif on your sun-top, except that I can’t quite get it
at this point, from just this viewpoint; or else crop up

as someone walking away from the terrace
in a moment’s downpour, when reflections
bring the trees indoors and start you again from your place

beside the shutter, setting off bravely from a house of rain,
not even half-visible, now, then barely
visible at all, then gone.

*

This is you and me making love in the all-but dark.
Here’s a glimmer of light from an eye, a glisten of spit on an eye-tooth.
We are playing Hide My Face and Ape the Turk.

Later, I turn up the lamp and shadows flock
to the corners of the room, except those that huddle
along the dint of your spine, or pool in the small of your back.

The lamplight falls bang in the middle
of the almost-oval mirror on your grandmamma’s armoire,
its unearthly sprays of violets, its darker growth

of bad penny foxing. See how we stare ...
Which brings me face to face with the stony riddle
of who you want to be, or who you are.

Morning (Sunday, was it?) catches us both in a different light,
one shaping up to the day, the other gone deep beneath
the dump of the coverlet, a twist of hair, a pair of wholly innocent feet.

*

You remember that movie, don’t you? – the rain like grapeshot
on a drum, the banged-up Pontiac
pulling over at the pump, a sideslip of red hot

jazz from the radio, the screen door creaking and slapping
as she makes an appearance, wiping her hands
on her apron, a link of impossibly bright hair slipping

free of its French pleat. ‘Got some coffee?’
‘Coffee? Yeah.’ ‘Got somethin’ to eat?’ You can see the strands
of their lives pulling into a knot as soon as they get squiffy

and put that slow-slow song with the aching sax
on the nickelodeon, while she gives her life to date:
‘Ma ’n’ pa ’n’ him.’ It’s clear as day there’s a big black hex

on this random throw of the bones, this coming together;
it’s there in the music, there in the grey-green weather.
Coming together too soon if not too late.

He earns his bacon and beans with a coat or two of paint
on the barn, or by cutting and stacking live oak for the stove.
Remember the freckle of sweat along the faint

line of down on her lip when she sits on the porch
to watch him split the first cord? Remember his poor
white cardsharper’s back; the way his reach

doesn’t match up to his swing? Remember the muddle of mauve
shadows across the kitchen blind ...? Him with one eye on the door,
her in the peach peignoir, asking what he’d give.

‘Do you love me?’ she wants to know, and he says: ‘Sure.’
‘Do you?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Do you love me?’ ‘Sure I do.’
And all that follows this proceeds from fear,

not least the day-for-night in that dusty store room,
feed bags and nose bags, the crucial claw-
hammer, the equally crucial yardbroom,

where she lets him wrangle her onto the tar-paper floor,
down like a dog, unblinking, her five and dime
crucifix ticking against her chin each time

his face comes into shot. Remember that?
Did she ever tell him her name?
Wasn’t his, in any case, a nom de guerre?

You sat, if I’ve got it right, still wearing your hat and coat
against the chill ... Our local café, a small plate of crevettes,
a glass of the crisp Sancerre you’d taken to your heart

that summer. Didn’t we decide, right away, it was a sham? –
the fruity saxophone, a girl who’d fall for such a creature,
greys and greens you never find in nature.

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