Improvisation on Them

He courts her with Soir de Paris & braids myths in her hair.

To hear time how they need it to be is the sound of dare.

His soft-burred tenor soaks her like grapes in wild yeast.

A beautiful loser, she takes pleasure in being incomplete.

He draws tears from grown men when he plucks his box.

She is reckless, never trained, so much a wound clock.

They move like movement in a still life picture.

She sings behind the beat and leans into the future.

Stepping out of sequence as though they’ve just begun.

Then again, the start moves back, depending on the run.

More by Linda Susan Jackson

Summer Rice

They're up to their necks in fever and floodplains, clear-
ing ground along miles of riverbed, bloodred. Carolina heat
burns holes in their straw hats, leaves halos of steam around
silhouettes. Down the line, they are one deep breath riding
field rhythms Movin', movin'. Lone bones of things: a dog's jaw, 
a man's leg, a baby's pelvis; thin bones of turtles, birds, fish
pulled to the surface by swole-up hands. Hopsack dresses
singe the women's bodies. Fringes hang from the straw pants on 
sweat-soaked, bare-chested men in the line. The line shouter 
urges them on Movin' on down the line. Huh. The searing sun
drives quail points in their backs, its red glare shedding circles
of light around their darkening bodies. Foot after foot of earth
unearthed. Root-thick soil dug up along low country rivers
for glaberrima, Africa's rice. Heels indent soil for seeds; big
toes cover seeds with soil in song You told me, huh, knees are
important. Gnarled fingers of grans and nans who no longer
winnow, weave ancient designs into coiled baskets of pine,
sweet grass, bulrush and palmetto to hold the summer yield. 
Hulls beat against hollowed-out trees as they whirl in dervish
frenzy, carried round by ringing words Movin' on down the line, 
huh. Despite bits and whips, they return to thatched-roof huts,
sweep up dusty dirt with palm-leaf brooms before they bank
the dinner fire. Lean-to chimneys ride smoke and ash up mud
walls, a calico headscarf on a nail, the room's only rush of
color. Their bodies break down on straw pallets. Tomorrow, 
same as today. Same as yesterday. Okra and tomato stew. 
Fish on Sunday, scratching out the scream holler of summer
rice in their bones Ah'm a movin'. Movin' out the line. Huh.

Related Poems

Love at First Sight

They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?

I want to ask them
if they don’t remember—
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?—
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
beforehand.
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.