Though we vacationed in a castle, though I rode you hard one morning to the hum of bees that buggered lavender, and later we shared gelato by a spotlit dome where pigeons looped like coins from a parade-- we weren’t transported back to newlyweds. We only had a week, between new jobs, we both were pinched with guilt at leaving Claire. When, in our most expensive, most romantic meal, you laid your sunburned hand upon your heart, it was just to check the phone was on. When the trip was good as over--when the train would take us overnight to Rome, the flight would take us home--I had the unimportant moment I keep having. I wonder if we choose what we recall? The train was unromantic, smoky. We found a free compartment, claimed the two bench seats, and eyed the door. Italians who peered in and saw your shoes, my auburn hair, our Let’s Go: Rome, soon found another car. And we were glad. But then, reluctantly, two couples entered, settled suitcases on laddered racks, exchanged some cautious greetings, chose their spots. Then each one turned to snacks and magazines. The miles scrolled by like film into its shell. Night fell. Each took a toothbrush down the hall. Returned. Murmured to the one he knew. The man beside the window pulled the shade. We each snapped off our light, slunk down until our kneecaps almost brushed. And shut our eyes. Entwined I found us, waking in the dark. Our dozen interwoven knees, when jostled, swayed, corrected, swayed the other way. Knuckles of praying hands were what they seemed. Or trees in old growth forests, familiarly enmeshed, one mass beneath the night wind’s breath. Or death, if we are good, flesh among flesh, without self consciousness, for once. Husband, five years husband, you slept, our fellow travelers slept, scuttling through black time and blacker space. As we neared the lighted station, I closed my eyes. Had I been caught awake, I would have moved.
Ode to Butter
Like everything delicious, I was warned against it.
Those mornings, I’d slowly descend the stairs
in my plaid Catholic school uniform skirt, find my parents
eating behind newspapers, coned in separate silences.
The only music was the throat-clearing rasp of toast
being scraped with too-little butter, three passes
of the blade, kkrrrrr, kkrrrr, kkrrr, battle hymn of the eighties.
When I pulled the butter close, my mother’s eyes
would twitch to my knife, measuring my measuring--
the goal, she’d shared from Weight Watchers,
a pat so thin the light shines through. If I disobeyed,
indulged, slathered my toast to glistening lace,
I’d earn her favorite admonition, predictable as Sunday’s
dry communion wafer: “A moment on the lips . . .”
I couldn’t stop my head from chiming, forever on the hips.
Hips? They were my other dangerous excess.
I was growing them in secret beneath my skirt,
and when I walked the dog after breakfast
and a truck whooshed past from behind, the trucker’s eyes
sizzling mine in his rear view, I knew my secret
wouldn’t stay a secret long. They were paired, up top,
by a swelling, flesh rising like cream to fill, then overfill
the frothy training bra. Everything softening on the shelf,
milk-made. Meanwhile, at breakfast, sitting on my secret,
I’d concede, scrape kkrrrrr, kkrrrr, kkrrr, lay down
my weapon, dry toast sticking in my craw. I’d think
of the girl from school, seventeen to my fourteen,
who crawled out the window of first-period bio
to meet her boyfriend from the Navy base. She’d collar
his peacoat, draw his mouth to her white neck,
or so I kept imagining. Slut, the girls whispered, watching
her struggling back through the window, throat
pinked from cold and his jaw’s dark stubble,
kkrrrrr, kkrrrr, kkrrr. Only fourth period,
and already I was hungry for lunch, or something.
Thank you, Republican parents, thank you,
Catholic education, thank you, Reganomics—
words I never knew I’d write. But I hereby acknowledge
repression’s inadvertent gifts. Folks who came of age
in liberal families, permissive cities, the free-love sixties,
how far they must go to transgress—
Vegas, latex, sex tapes, a sugaring of the nostrils?
Yet how close at hand rebellion is for me.
Merely making married love with my married husband,
I’m a filthy whore. Merely sitting down to breakfast
and raising the butter knife, I’m living on the edge.