He smoldered within the mirror
while the late evening drew nearer,
a Summery Saturday night
after a long stretch of daylight.
The mirror was a wedding gift
from his parents, before the rift
that had ruptured in its due course,
bleeding out as a bad divorce.
His wife watched as he primmed himself
in her mirror, nearby the shelf
where their old wedding photo stood,
the two of them framed in fake-wood
and kissing in front of a crowd,
all of their parents very proud,
but now he dabbed on some cologne
and combed his hair, (full but two-tone),
while flashing his straight white teeth
rounded by a beard, like a wreath
that was finely trimmed, each hair snipped,
and, not noticing her, he quipped,
“Still lookin’ good, you handsome stud.”
His wife waited, feeling like mud
while he got ready for “Poker”,
a word spoken like a Joker.
She said, “That’s lots of cash, Jason.”
But, being like a Free Mason,
he never spoke about his games
or any of his friends’ real names.
He would just say, “I sure will win
with a little help from some gin.
Then I’ll get in the scoring zone.”
Despite the cash, there clearly shown
packs of rubbers through the leather:
things they never used together.
The rings reminded of the ring
on her finger, a gaudy thing
he had exchanged in a Pawn Shop
for money he earned with a mop
in an old fast-food restaurant—
the place they met, their Friday haunt
now closed down, its windows broken
and its name nevermore spoken.
“Can you stay home tonight?” she said.
“I’ll make some fresh banana bread.”
Adjusting his belt, and his crotch,
he then checked his true Sterling watch.
“Sounds good for breakfast,” he replied.
“And how about eggs on the side?”
She saw herself past his shoulder:
the wrinkles now looking older
than he looked in his corduroy
and cowboy boots, dressed like a boy
ready for a good do-si-do
and maybe, too, a rodeo.
He could have passed for his thirties,
strutting despite his old hurt knees;
like a rooster touring his coop
and crowing loud atop the stoop
while all the hens gazed in wonder
as they felt his booming thunder.
Whereas her figure had swelled plump
long after she had lost her bump
to a sharp scalpel that had left
her cute navel a scar-crossed cleft.
Marginalized in the mirror,
she saw things now brighter, clearer,
and knew that the once happy Past
passed like a young boy, running fast
to the end-goal, to be a Man,
while yearning to shorten the span
so that he never grew wiser,
becoming too soon a miser
who forgot birthdays on purpose
and treated life as a circus
eager to pack it up and go
leaving her behind, a sideshow.
Anyhow, he prepared to leave,
buttoning up each cufflink sleeve
and putting his wallet up front
to bulge his pocket, give the runt
the outline of a bigger hound
to be picked up from the dog pound.
And yet she was in the doghouse,
knowing he left to hunt the blouse
at another girl’s street address,
something that, if he did confess,
he would do without any shame,
saying, “It’s just a Poke-Her game,”
all the while grinning with an air
She glanced at his wallet laying
on the bed, its stuffed folds splaying
to reveal a lot of money.
Her tone pleading, she said, “Honey,
I hope you and the guys have fun,”
while her world was coming undone
as she watched the man she married
grin at himself, his face varied
from the face he wore with his wife
in a normal day of his life.
This rare face came alive
and he hummed just like a beehive,
its combs brimming with sweet honey,
or a day in May: warm, sunny,
the fields alive with flowers,
Though those colors had not been Ours,
she thought, since the day we married.
No, our colors have been buried
deep in the Past, deep in the earth,
just after our son’s awful birth.
My colors wilted in their bloom,
uprooted, torn to make some room
for the fruit of our Love, the child
he hated, abused, and reviled.
But it was my body that died!
My body ripped apart inside!
Then we couldn’t make love at all
and his love became very small.
After all, it’s true, what they say
about Love and how it won’t stay,
but fades over time, no matter
how perfect the daily platter.
He just never valued something
if it couldn’t warm his dumpling.
“There’s a good movie on tonight,”
she said, clutching the pistol tight.
“It’s about a second chance…”
He did not give her a first glance,
turning away from the mirror,
checking his watch, the time nearer,
and so, heading to the door,
he said, “Good night, babe…” and no more.
She heard him start his king-cab truck
and leave the driveway, her eyes stuck
on her reflection in the glass—
eyes wide while completing a pass
up and down her war-torn body;
all used up, her forlorn body.
She aimed the pistol at her heart
and, at the bang, she broke apart.
A winter sky like sheets of linen
lit by pallid, dimming candlelight,
the wooly clouds gauzy and thin when
the sun descends, a wan, whisk-whipped white
fractured by the barren, black branches
of the old crooked, wind-shaken oak
and the cold evening light that blanches
the distant knobs, while the wispy smoke
slithers serpentinely all across
fields jagged with broken stalks of corn
now harvested and sold at a loss
for those whose labors have thereby borne
but a decrepit bloodline and name,
and the colonial house of brick
standing upright, despite ancient shame
and the tottering wood, rick to rick—
bitter wormwood and ant-eaten oaks
which, when burned, burns also in its turn
the noses of those who gather close
by the hearth, husband and wife, who learn
of cold, silent days that lay between
man and woman and marriage ideals,
sitting in rockers to set a scene
of resentment…pride…contrary wills.
She, in bonnet and a homely frock,
and he, in coveralls and a cap,
both rocking, yet unwilling to talk—
as settled as the quilt on her lap.
A bitter winter crouches outside
like a demon haunting a doorstep
whose whispers come both cruel and snide
to chafe raw at their throats, like the strep;
an itch at first, then a burning pain,
like sharp caustic swirling in the throat,
blazing as a sharply bitter bane,
his voice as gruff as a billy goat.
“It’s a damn cold winter,” he remarks,
snorting, then hacking from the black smoke
pluming from the kindling as it sparks
to breathe a stuffy fragrance to choke
the stuffy room, and its occupants.
He frowns, staring at the sullen fire
as though one of his stamped documents
for a bank account soon to expire.
The backdoor bangs loudly down the hall
and a chilly breeze swirls its way through
like a lost dog returning at call
from an outing down the avenue.
“Damn that backdoor!” the old man exclaims,
glaring at his wife and at the door.
She’s hard of hearing, or so she claims,
and continues knitting, as before.
The door bangs and bangs, the wind blowing
past his neck, chill on his sallow skin;
and though the hearth is warmly glowing,
his bones are chilled as he thinks back when
they had first met, and he had fought hard
to win her heart from her first husband,
sneaking to this house, (snow in the yard),
and through the backdoor, where he was shunned
only once— never more—for he won
her while her first husband was away
each day for two months, dusk until dawn,
till she divorced and married—same day.
But her exhusband took it to heart
and the divorce knotted itself tight
around his neck. “Till death do us part.”
He hanged himself on their wedding night.
But how many men came here, calling,
when he, too, worked at the factory?
Adultery is not a small thing
done and then gone: it’s refractory.
Even now he wonders about men
who may have come in through that backdoor,
feeling cold as the ghosts all walk in
with the wintry breeze from the wild moor.
For a door could have opened again
on one of his own many workdays,
footprints covered in fresh white snow when
she succumbed to one more nymphal craze.
She was once a looker in her day,
but now—sixty-odd—she looks like most,
which is to say, wrinkled, fat, and gray:
old, old, old, soon to give up the ghost.
“I said you need to shut that back-door!”
he shouts at her, his red face a scowl.
She looks up at him from her frayed chore
while the December winds hiss and howl.
“If you’d fix it good,” she says, “you’d never
have to worry about that door none.”
Glowering, he thinks of how clever
women are— too clever to be done.
Meanwhile the demon is whispering,
its cold breath whirling within his ear,
telling him he reminds of a king
whose horned crown was but a cuckold’s fear,
for throughout his kingdom it was known
his wife had slept with many others,
and though he sat upon a great throne
his bed belonged to his wife’s lovers.
Grumbling, he rises up from his chair
and walks to the chilly old bedroom,
shuddering with the cold gusts of air
and contemplating the coming gloom.
He has always kept a pail of nails
and a hammer underneath the bed,
and as he recalls the sound of bells
at the church where they wished to be wed
he drives the point into stubborn wood
to nail shut that door against the air.
He says, “I’m goin’ to fix it good.”
and, hammer raised, walks toward her chair…
A trellis entwined with Virginia creeper
beneath a bower of Magnolias in bloom,
and a cold stone bench, upon which a breathless sleeper
lies in gossamers woven round from the moon’s loom.
Lights, like fireflies, on the Mississippi River
and hobnobbing drinkers, each kissing wine-stained glass
while a socialite with pearls and curls is all aquiver
as a man with a black cravat exudes such class.
They abscond to a yard of dew-bejeweled tulips,
which, he claims, is part of his grand manor estate,
and while he lovingly pets her petticoat-petaled hips,
he tells her that their meeting is but divine fate.
She swoons with the climax of their moonlit meeting
and lies upon the bench, given up to all things
while he walks to the port city dock, thereupon greeting
his fellow passengers as the steamboat bell rings.
He glances back at the Creole city, so bright
with glowing globes festooned all along its French streets,
and fingers the pearls in his pockets, so smooth and so white
like the skin of a woman beneath parting pleats.
Standing on deck, he meets a lovely Southern belle
and she asks what he likes most about steamboat life.
He smiles, charmingly, and he bows, saying, “Mademoiselle,
I love plucking flowers at night,”—his grin a knife.
The field spread, wan and wilted, wallowing
like a pale corpse before the front porch,
beneath a gloomy gray sky, swallowing
the sun like a fog-shrouded torch.
The old man sat in his rocking chair,
grinding the planks with a scraping screech
and his wife sat on the steps, hands in hair,
plaiting it as she ignored his speech.
“Don’t go runnin’ ‘round no more,”
he said, the rifle loaded in his lap,
“‘cause I won’t be married to no whore.
I’d rather be a widower than a sorry sap.”
The woman only giggled, and continued braiding
while he upbraided her with his threats—
at her back the house paint was chipped and fading,
the windows cobwebbed with dead insects and regrets.
The second storey window was dark, the kid’s room
empty, ever empty, since they were married—
and in the haunted silence of that gloom
all of the past and future and hope were buried.
With a sigh she said, “Nothing ever grows here.
None of my vegetables and none of my flowers.”
She blinked away a single bitter tear
and sighed again. “Ain’t nothin’ here really ours.”
“I’ve got some good roots here,” he said,
“and they got a taproot to our hearts.”
She scoffed. “But the flowers are all dead,
so who cares about the other parts?”
“You just think you’ll be happy flyin’ free,”
he said, “like a seed on the sinful wind,
or you think someone will pluck you from me—
maybe a rich fool wanting a cozy friend.”
He lifted the cold-barreled rifle in each hand
and felt the reassuring heft of the stock
and, with a curdling frown toward his wedding band,
he aimed it toward her, listening to her talk.
“Your gun don’t work no more,” she said,
“no more than the one between your legs.
Go ahead and shoot me in the head—
your gun ain’t nowhere near big as Greg’s.”
“Woman, you are tempting the Devil,”
he said, his voice as a whetstone on a blade.
She stood up, smirking, ready to revel
in the roughspun hatred they had both made.
Her dress was white as dandelion seeds
and clung to her body loose, a dress
hinting at the yet-youthful curves, and lewd deeds,
of a breeze fluttering higher at that airy access.
“Should have known you were a dead end,”
she said lightly, patting down her skirt—
she was a lithe flower, but she would not bend.
“You’d think after all this time it wouldn’t hurt.”
He smiled sourly and the porch’s light
drew a shadow mask down to his jaw line.
“All I gave you was cleaning vinegar, right?
And all you ever wanted was fancy wine.”
A cow lowed in the distance, a moan
carrying on for a long time, as if to splurge
upon the wide-mouthed vowel, maudlin, lone
as a farewell song, a Southern Gothic dirge.
“Think you can bolt from me?” he growled.
“I got your number, Missy, with this Winchester.”
“All you ever had were guns.” She scowled
and thought of the first time he had undressed her.
He could smell honeysuckle in the air
and it stayed in his mind, for a time,
but he also smelled lavender in her hair
and on her neck, soon to be a kissing crime.
His finger gradually weighed upon the trigger,
the muscles and sinew tightening with death.
“You think you can just leave me for some nigger,
but you ain’t.” The rifle exploded its gunpowder breath.
The world was deafened, silenced, slain,
and her eyes closed to utter void,
yet she did not blossom from her brain
and instead saw a doe, far afield, destroyed.
She watched in horror, and in relief,
as the doe collapsed, rose and fell and rose,
scrambling and moaning in its grief
before bleeding out among the fallow wheat rows.
“Go on, get,” the old man said. “Go to your buck.”
Wide-eyed as a doe, she hurried toward her car
hoping she would start a new life, with a little luck—
but she did not get very far.
He aimed the rifle and fired again,
a grin spreading across his empty-eyed face.
He said, “I wanted you to see how I’d win.
Did you honestly think you’d ever leave this place?”
He watched her crawl, her dainty daisy dress
now a crimson-and-white tie-dye,
and when she stopped moving he said, “God bless”,
lipped his rifle and kissed the world goodbye.