Curious to see caverns, we detoured in Tennessee to ramble through Fat Man's Misery, past a ballroom and gun powder machine till we reached The World's Second Largest Underground Lake— on which my husband had promised a ride in a glass-bottom boat. There, a kid hunched over a hot-rod magazine. Dan, I think his name was, radiant, in clammy, artificial light. I asked Dan, college-break? He nodded inside his hoodie then helped me into the glass-bottom hold. I peered into the milky water and watched the seeded trout swim up for the chum he dumped overboard on our account. He was milky white, himself, from months of cave sitting. I wondered if he'd write a poem on a summer spent underground. Thought to suggest it—how foolish— then wondered if what I really wanted was Dan, as I stepped into his boat, to take my arm and ask me something— at this middle age, probably for a couple coins then give a promise of safe passage as he ferried me to the realm of the dead that I've been thinking about for several years not because of a girlfriend's cancer but because my body is no longer young. I mean, lovely— and that there's no turning back to that water's edge. There's only the couch every afternoon at four o'clock and not wanting to ever move. Not wishing to die exactly— just not wanting to rise because the light feels so pressured. And I can't have that ardent glow reflected back while brushing teeth or fastening a necklace. Now there's this casting around for other stuff— the daughters' secrets—the pathetic urge to write about their secrets— or a crush on Charon. Not an old man as it turns out but a youth, colorless and tired of his i-Pod. No, he's not really of interest to me. And this is my secret: that I wish he were— as with those arms reaching through clouds of cigarette smoke to lead me into reeking dives. I'm past that. And he, Dan, not the poetic Charon— will probably climb out of the caverns into the six o'clock evening sun. Stretch. Change his shirt, eat his mother's meatloaf and head off in a rusted Honda for the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot with a six-pack and a girl, those hand-sized moths flitting in the light as the sheriff chases the kids to another dead end spot— those enormous dusty moths my husband caught for me to hold in my hand because he knows, in the afternoon light after the dank caverns, how fluttery the furry wings will feel. Which is more than melodrama can bear. To have wished for Dan to ask me something? I know the passage is not what you wanted to hear.
after William Carlos Williams’s “Queen-Anne’s-Lace”
Remote purple lays claim to stem,
beside routine stripes of green and brown.
Dark as a patch of shade
in the marsh across the path
that the neighborhood kids and I,
were forbidden to pass. It is
that hue that overtakes,
the marsh that sucks in boots
and offers up skunk cabbage and cattails.
Nests here and overhead. Who named this plant—
also called bog onion, brown dragon, Indian turnip, wake robin,
and who told me I cannot name. But
his purple—all shadow, all remote and not-remote,
all question marks,
This herbaceous perennial, growing from corm
vertical and swollen as it is underground.
Even in late summer, it is not nothing, William
turning from purple to red before his scattering.