Pas de Deux
We ate by windows framing a lagoon,
Where three swans floated in a gentle fairy tale,
The white linen of our tables
Mirrored with them on the dark pane,
A negative twice exposed.
Without my knowing you were gone,
You stood outside,
Your fingers cupping bread
To lure up on the shore for me
The largest one–the drake.
An Astaire, you glided backward,
The huge bird,
Ungainly now upon the land,
Stepping clumsily behind.
You stopped beside the window,
He snapping at the bread
And at your fingertips
Held just outside of reach.
The tables held their breath
As, the banquet over,
So was the truce.
The swan reared,
As tall as you,
Stretching and spreading wings of incredible span,
Their fluttering breath stirring your hair,
The whiteness of your teeth and starched shirt, his feathers–
Dazzling in the dark–
Glowing on the pane like luminous ghosts.
Wide wings beating the air in anger,
The sinuous neck twisted and darted,
Graceful as a duelist,
His rapier, the massive beak
Aiming a blow straight for your chest.
But you whirled,
And made your exit,
From the stage,
Returning to me moments later through the buzzing room:
Taking a final,
Calloused Knuckles, scraped all summer on the rough cement,
We sat in the deep shade of a Chinaberry tree,
The ball's bounce counting out our childhood.
Throwing for one-sies, we held our fingers wide,
Broadcasting, like wildflower seed, the heavy, clinking handful
Of metallic green, blue, red, silver, gold,
So that no two touched.
For ten-sies, we herded them together
In a close corral.
Jean's long, tapering fingernails,
Like a limber quarterhorse,
Cut, each turn,
The perfect number,
Saving the others for the next pass.
Ahead, she always chose the next set:
"Around the world!"
And we followed her lead,
Capturing our prize, then circling the tiny ball,
Before it fell back down to earth.
"Piggy in the Pen!"
And against the ground we cupped our extra hand
Into a shelter,
With each rhythmic bounce,
The hard, lean critters
We played away the summer,
Poised on puberty.
Later, Jean grew her legs long like her nails
And went around the world
To model in New York.
I still have stubby nails and ragged cuticles.
And spend my hours
Poking at life
Waiting for the ball to bounce.
Caught and dropped in a plastic drugstore vial,
At first the spider lies on the bottom in a pile of legs,
Then starts to stretch and reach,
So that the bottle's filled with dark caresses.
Her fingers fall
Close and wait–
Until I pour in alcohol.
First shuddering at the liquid chill,
She lashes out,
Contracts to a fist,
Then still contorted in a ball
Gently rides the icy currents,
The violin upon her back
Swaying in a silent rhythm.