[Last Night George and I Stood Outside]


In the mellowed light of porches fading into
early summer nights, after a reading I gave last night,
George lights another Marlboro and offers me
a pull from a fifth of Jim Beam. He says kill it
but I do not. It seems the smoke with each drag
latches onto his beard while we talk of women.
When he speaks of Alabama, of a girl who drove
her father’s truck and once pointed a shotgun
into the nape of his neck for fun, I wonder
if love shapes itself into the landscape of its

pronouncement. If that Southern love sat heavy
in clouds of horseflies atop crushed jonquils
still wet from the damp air. There are too many
corners in this city, so much dark shadow,
and if this love-as-landscape thing is true, then
it is that masked member always darting
out of my view. I am lost is what I want to say
to George, but he is too tender, and I know
after that girl left him he went to his porch
too far from here to hold a war with liquor

and tobacco. This is how the night unfolds
itself: a father returns across the street
and lifts his daughter in one single sweep
of arms into his breast in some kind of half-light
while the two of us on another porch ash
our cigarettes into a flower pot in silence.
This is how we live, now, and somehow it
is all wrong and yet unchanging. No woman,
I want to tell George, has ever dangled a shotgun
in front of me, but they have spread legs

and I have acquiesced, and they have closed
them, and I have cried. When the tender men
have gone, there will be no one to cry about
the joy of loving and living for and then losing
women, and that will be wrong, too, and the
porch lights will still bead through the languid
air of summer nights and fathers will still
return home but no one will hug their children.
George fingers an almost empty pack and asks
me why I read my prose like poetry, and I say

it is because I want to impress a woman I love.
I do not know if it works, I say. I am always
looking for someone to tell me it will be alright.
But George is silent, staring, as if the women
of his poems have come as ghosts on this no name
street to receive some sort of communion. Some
things will never change, I know, and there are
fathers in windows everywhere and the woman
I love is somewhere I do not know. But I am for her.
When George passes the bottle my way, I kill it.