Affair With Various Endings - Poem by Kate Northrop
I. Kempton, Pennsylvania
Perhaps the last of the light
lifting this evening from the field of wheat
means something. Perhaps the view
includes us, and we are not errors
in the landscape
or meant to be erased. The painter, it's true,
prefers not to preserve
our figures in the brush
of hills layered into green. Perhaps he too
is careless with the truth. What lies
have you had to tell to land you here
outside Kempton, with the creek rising behind us?
How did the story sound? If I say your hand
on my thigh, the truck still idles
beneath us, tracks in the frozen road
that months from now will thaw
& heave. If I say your mouth
and the deer begin drifting
across the field, who's to say
we didn't call them out—their figures shadowy,
their eyes gem-like and glittering?
It was all too urgent being human.
You ordered drinks, gestured
with your hands, told stories
and the more I knew
the more I was frightened. Those evenings
the air came unpinned, got lost
in autumn & dusk, in the leaves
at the edge of the field. And weren't the edges themselves
vanishing? When you walked to the barn
where the cats had gone in,
taken to rafters. I heard your footsteps
moving the gravel, the ice
in your glass of vodka.
I listened like that
for the ends of things: the last of the cars, the headlights crossing
our bedroom. I listened
to your breathing.
but rooms kept turning in places
I could not ignore. I left because I loved you
without reserve. Because I would not be allowed
to keep you with me in the world.
III. "Kings River Canyon"
Because when you read it your voice shakes,
breaks over the last words,
Because in the Pennsylvania Hospital
at 8th and Spruce, surgeons have split open your chest
and with instruments
are cutting your heart,
and because I wanted to hurt them, because they never
get older, but return each year
I read the poem, Rexroth walking back through the canyon
where twenty years before he had slept
with his new wife
at the beginning of autumn.
It was her birthday
and they lay there on the hard earth,
the stream running beside
and the walls soaring up
to hold them there. Maybe
he made love to her, the air
chilling the skin
or maybe that was the disease
beginning even then, gathering itself deep
inside her body, considering
the distance between itself
and the surface.
There was no path.
They'd cut their way into the canyon
where eighteen years later,
a highway's been blasted through. Eighteen years
he writes ground to pieces.
I am more alone that I ever imagined.
You are dead. And in the mechanical
cool of the classroom
I felt it grip me:
how it will be without you
when I'll be fifty-five, sixty,
in the beginning of winter, in the first
waves of snow. I'll watch the slow drag
of the Schulykill
or I'll go the garden where we met,
the leaves spinning down
into the empty fountain,
where I will never see you,
not again, not your hands, your face,
or hear aloud the way
you said my name. I'll turn
and turn again,
but you'll be gone, nothing filling up your place.
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