She Reads of His Death

She picks up the Times. Next-to-last page. My God, that’s Jack. “Loved ones at his side…”

Flash back to the First Time, that meal at The Clam House, two gin slings, Great Necks on the half-shell, veal in the days she still ate veal, the red wine thick on the tongue, then to that place down the dirt road, Blue Whale Lodge or something, and from there it was the old Don’t! Stop!/Don’t stop!, no time to pull the bedspread down. This is so good, they said, so good.

And it was good, in its way, though Out of Bounds. But not, she knows now, No Harm Done. Harm done, but the wound had closed & scarred, and sometimes Carl called it her Proud Flesh, but each still loved each, and there they were.

That first night she came home at three.

Carl stirred. What time is it?

One, she said.

Good time with you pals? he asked.

Great time, she said.

Ah, that’s nice. Goodnight.

Two years.

She looks at his name in the Times. Ward.

What does it mean? she asked him once.

I think it means guard, he said.

Does that mean I should stay on guard?

I’m safe, he said. I’ll guard you, if you need it. But you don’t.

She did feel safe with him. Those arms, those long strong legs, all of it on the move. Stilled now.

Thinks back the day they went to the track. He laughed out loud when he saw Cock Sure on the card, bet it to win—You’re so bad, she said, and they cheered that horse, beers in hand, and when the voice on the P.A. said it won by a length she said Seemed two lengths to me, and it was back and forth like that all day, What a great laugh you have, he said, and in the last race she one-upped him, bet All of Me to show. When they walked to the car she said Now I see what it’s like when they say ‘walk on air.’ Sounds dumb, but I feel as if my feet aren’t on the ground.

Jack’s dead, she says to herself, and though twice she reads the kind things loved ones said—of course it’s Jack, has to be Jack, still she comes back to top of the page and runs her hand on his name as if it were runes, as if she might be wrong.

What are your plans today? Carl asks.

I want to buy a plant, plant something, she says. Not a cheap one this time—full-grown, a plum tree or something. Will you help me get it in?

 

What is the Place of Place in Your Work, They Asked

Is it this way for you, too? You’re in your day and a place comes to mind: somewhere you’ve been, not a place like Spain or Greece, but a mere speck in the world, and not the same speck each time, as if someone you can’t see has pulled out a thick deck of place-cards, says Here: take one.

And you take one and it’s just a scene. No words, no angst brought back, but there you are in spite of the fact that you’re in your car or poised at a sawhorse to drill a hole in a Doug fir 2-by-4 or you’ve just stuck the last brick on that wall you’ve built.

One of mine’s the backyard of a small house in a beach town. High school, two friends and I hitchhiked to L.A., no place to stay, someone’s mom let us sleep there. Wide stone slab. When the sun came up, she brought us tea.

There’s one in France—I buy Le Monde at the newsstand next to a bar where my wife once asked for a brand of sweet wine and said its name not quite right and they brought her a glass of milk.

Why that place, though? We had no fight, just went down there now and then to buy Le Monde, have a drink, and once it was milk.

It goes on: end of a dock at a lake, its woodgrain grooved by sun, the lines of that grain raised, grey-black—and the sound of the lake as it finds the dock.

And sometimes place for me is the scar on the cheek of a man I passed on Spring Street in New York, or the face of my aunt in her bed the last night I saw her.

What is this? Thought? Bridge? Thread? Web? None of these. More like here and here and him and her, a sense that the end-of-life flash will be no more than a film: place then face, then place/place/face, ’til the charge is gone from what we’ve been and we move on.

Steaks

You can tell the guys who just got out of jail. They drop them off near here—give them a place to stay for a few nights, put some cash in their hands, close the doors to the van, take off.

You’re stopped at a red light, this guy’s got the green, steps into the crosswalk stripes. Shaved head, white guy, not young, dark t-shirt and jeans on a hot day, and what does he have in his hand? A pack of steaks, blood-red in sun, and as he steps in front of your truck, looks at them—three cuts of meat he’s just bought: steaks—the joy of such a thing: you go into a store, lay down a few bills, they give you change, the steaks are yours, and you walk out. You just walk out.

But it’s the way he walks that gets you. He’s big but not huge, in shape but not carved, and brings with him those years in the joint whose gait you know from tough dads of schoolkids you taught—and know, too, that in one flash this guy could spring forth to slash/spring back to save himself, that those arms could take you down.

This is how the not-jailed or not-yet-jailed know him: too old to walk like that and not have been in—went in as a boy, and the boy in him still shines as he walks past your truck, looks at those steaks as if to check that they’re still there—still in his hand—and luck’s with him: there they are. Steaks.

And Soon the Wind Had It in Its Mind to Shift

He was thrilled at the speed with which the wind had come up—miles he’d walked in that sand, not a tree in sight, just what he’d hoped for—clear spring day, ice plant & heart-leafed sand rose in bloom, proud of how far he’d trudged, how strong his legs were—but knew that soon he must turn back, join his wife, and they’d drive on, stop for the night at that place they’d booked in El Kef. I’ll be back by 6, he’d told her.

Thrilled, too, at the way wind in sand takes on the sound of sea, roar of storm as waves break on rocks—and sound of spindrift, too, as it rides its way upshore. But this was no sea strand, this no foam.

Soon, hard to see—sand in his hair, on his face, his tongue. I’ll sit for now, get a good bead on where I am. Gee: if I could just see the wind, the grit in it, if I could dye it all blue, what a thing to watch!

As he sat he saw that the mound he leaned on built a ridge in back of him, a small hill where no hill had been.

If Clare could see this, he thought—when I’m back she’ll be shocked, she’ll look at me, say Where the hell were you? and I’ll tell her how the wind came from nowhere, the sound of it, the thrill, how hard it was to breathe.

He pulled out a can of grape juice and drank, ate some dried figs, but as he drank he took in sand, laughed out loud—good for my guts, he thought—like brown rice, I hate brown rice, the juice now hard to drink, the figs so caked with grit he threw one down.

The hill in back of him had a red glow now, and he stood, turned, knew he’d walked half the day—might have been more—would just do the same for the way back, the wind now not in waves but sharp blasts—clots of sand in the caves of his eyes.

This might not be so wise, he thought—can’t see much—it’s as if someone did pour that dye, and it’s not blue but gray—where’s that patch of cane grass I passed—it was huge, a whole field of green. I’d do well to go back to that hill, I think—lie down on the lee side, pull my shirt up onto my face ’til the wind lifts, the air clears…

They Like the Way She Writes. They Want a Piece of Her.

Not an arm or a leg—that’s too much, but a part of the her of her—fresh shred of skin, say—which they’d place in a glass case on their desk—and sure, it would dry, but she would be there in her DNA—they’d know what it was.

But not hair. Hank of hair seems too child-like, and they are not kids, they’re full-grown, some with kids of their own—so no hair.

Can there be a DNA of words, can they graft hers onto theirs, those skeins she’s known for—the good strong nouns, those verbs coiled to strike—and the way she breaks those lines—damn!—the speed at which they fall, they want them—

They want the words & they try on the words as if they’re pants, shoes, hats, & they tell themselves their own lines break just right, the whole thing fits.

But of course, it does not fit. They look wedged in: know it.

How ‘bout the eyes, then, they say: One slice of the off-whites of her eyes just at the edge of my page. My new flag. My milk-glass. My bleached tongue.