A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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“Now, before we get too serious,” he said in his

slow, considering way,

well before the roses, or the kisses,

our second date in fact, a picnic in the park

(the first, we’d gone out dancing, that same wild weekend

     the war ended) “maybe you should know

a bit about me.”

My chest tensed in protest. So serious,

     so soon! I stared at my hands.

“How about I tell you something,” he proposed;

     “then it’s your turn.”


“Like,” he said, but

my mind zoomed off, straight over the trees and gone,

     yet tethered, a balloon, a kite, snarled in those twigs at the top—

What was he going to tell me?

“Like,” he said again, laying his hand on my knee,

and instantly I telescoped

back into my body,

“I don’t like Brussels sprouts. Why,

I couldn’t say. I’ve gotten over

     most childhood monsters—string beans,

     mashed turnips, squash—

but Brussels sprouts,” he shook his head, “no.”

Some strange magnetism grew in

     the friction between these quick-seeming words and

               his slow voice.

“What?” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“Weren’t you listening? This is important, ’cause

     after we’re married, no Brussels sprouts.”

“I haven’t said yes..”

“I know. But you will.”

He said it to the sky, offhand and bold, then looked at me

sidelong with just the barest smile, which somehow

     —and I don’t know how—transformed a line

     guaranteed to make me angry into one that

               simply made me laugh.

“How do you know I will?”

“You wouldn’t lead me on. You’re not that kind.”

“Is this your thing or two?” I needed suddenly

to keep him at bay. “Because it’s not at all

     what I expected.”

“What did you expect?” he asked.

“Oh, maybe My Worst Moment During the War, or perhaps

     My Life as a Mobster, or maybe just

     My Career Goals.”

“Hmm.” He looked out over the grass, the pale trunks of

     eucalyptus trees, then turned back. “I thought we’d save

     all that for the third date, when we might be

               running out of things to say. What do you think?”

“I think you’re ridiculous.”

“But you don’t mind.”

“No. I don’t mind. I could use

     a little silliness, these days. Or a lot.”

“Okay,” he said, “so maybe we should

discuss Career Goals today.

I, for instance, am planning to become

a public accountant, win the Nobel Prize

in Medicine, and climb the world’s seven highest peaks

before running for President. What about you?”

“Me?” I said, tossing grass blades at his hair. “Oh,

     I have much more modest goals. I plan to make a trek, solo mind you,

     to the North Pole, using canaries to pull my sled,

     swing over the Amazon on the world’s longest vine, and

     perform with the Bolshoi Ballet when I’m sixty, but all my adventures

     will actually be

     cover for my exploits as a spy.”

“A spy?”

“A spy.”

“For which side?”

“Ah, that would be telling.”

He brushed off his hair. “I’m getting

     dandruff. Green dandruff. Tell me, Nurse Thurston,

     what does that mean?”

I shook my head. “It’s a bad sign. Could lead to

     permanent anthritis of the lung bone nodules.”

“Then I haven’t much time. And I did have one real confession.”

     He grasped my hands.

“Uh-oh. Say on.” I felt my hands clench

     under his. For such gifts,

               there is always a price.

“Okay then, this is it: I play the guitar.”

I looked at him. “You play the guitar.”

“I know I don’t seem the type, but there it is.”

“The type?”

“The musical type,” he said to his hands. “I realize

     I give off a manly aura,” and his eyes slid up to mine,

     just a hint of humor about his mouth,

     “but actually that isn’t me, it’s my brothers.”

“Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“I mean, there are my brothers, roping calves,

     shoeing horses—

did I mention,

     we live on a ranch?—and then there’s me,

     up on the porch,

               playing the guitar. Or—” he dropped his voice—

     “reading a book.”

“Oh, now, that will never do. Although

     truth to tell,” I said, “I read a book once.

     Enjoyed it, too. But I’d never admit it,” I said,

     “in mixed company.”

“I hope not.”

“But about this guitar-playing.”

“Yes, well, you see, I wouldn’t want a girl

     who really wanted a guy like my brothers,

     if you see what I mean. I mean, I wouldn’t want her to be

     disappointed or disillusioned.”

I nodded, deeply. “I see.”

“It’s Dillon was star of the football team, and Travis

     after him, and me, I played in the band. Rollin—

     well, Rollin never did sports or band, but he could

     ride like nobody’s business, so he didn’t need to.

So you see,” he said, “if it’s a real cowboy you want,

I’ll introduce you to Rollin. He

     rides rodeos. Or Dillon. He works the ranch, with my dad.”

“And Travis?” I asked, since he’d stopped. “Don’t I get

     introduced to him?”

He considered this. “I’ll introduce you,” he said at last,

     “but Glenda might not like it.”

“Oh. He’s married.”

“Two kids.”

I tossed more grass at him. “You wouldn’t just

     come right out and tell me, would you?”

“Takes all the fun out of it.”

“So what does Travis do?” I asked.

“Helps Dad and Dillon with the ranch.”

“And you don’t?”

“Sure I do. You can’t live on one and not help.

I always assumed

               what everyone assumed,

     that I’d work there, all my life. But now—”

“Now?” I was

     unaccountably fascinated. Guys with crowbars

               could not have pried me loose.

“I don’t know. It’s—the war—it’s made me restless. I keep

     wondering why we get ourselves into

               such awful messes.” He strugged.

     “As if there were an answer.”

That’s when I took his hand. “No,” I said. “But

     that doesn’t make it

               a stupid question.”

We sat quietly, holding each other’s hands, me

     suddenly aware of all the scents I’d been too tense

to smell: The broad, sleepy, comfortable swath of

warm grass, and bread, cut by

     acrid pickle, oakey wine, sharp cheese, sweet

broken grass I’d tossed at him. As if he thought my thoughts

with me, he lifted my hands

     towards his face and sniffed them,

an act of intimacy I could not

predict nor guard against–

     not my hands, not my heart.

He sniffed again, and smiled at me.


I pulled my hands away and said, “It seems to me,

     a good deal depends on one point.”

“Yes?” he said.

Let him wonder this time, I thought, just

     how serious I am.

“What instrument,” I asked, “did you play in the band?

Hmm? Surely not

               the guitar.”

“No,” he said. “The trumpet.”

“The trumpet!” I was pleased.

     “How lovely. But, there’s one other question.”

“Yes?” he said, wary again.

I laughed. “You look nervous.”

“I am nervous! And you’re pleased!”

“You bet I am. You’ve kept so many butterflies

dancing in my stomach, with your

secrets and confessions, I haven’t

eaten a thing!”

He glanced at the tablecloth, swooped: “Here,

     have a pickle. No, nothing else,

               except a bit of wine—there—

till you ask the other question.

What is it?”

There I sat, holding a pickle

     and a wine glass, while he spread his wide hands over

     the paper plates of sandwiches and fruit.

I glared and took a bite,

     crunched, chewed, and said,

“I will not drink wine with this pickle. Now.

These brothers: just how many of them

     are there?”

“Too many,” he said.

     “Three, and one sister.”

“Heavens, your poor sister.”

“Oh, she fared pretty well, I think.

     She’s the best roper

in the family. Can drop a calf

so clean—”

“So, she’s younger,” I said.

“Last one before me,” he agreed. “How’d

     you know?”

“If she’d been the oldest, or nearly,”

I said, “she’d have been too busy

     mending all your shirts

     to rope any calves.”

“Huh,” he said. “Could be.

You wouldn’t know

     from experience, now would you?”

“Sort of.”

“So, what about you? What’s

     your family like?”

“One brother, younger,” I said.

     “But let’s leave the details

     for another time.”

He looked at me. “That’s where the devil lives.”

I laughed. “Don’t remind me. Please.”

“Okay,” he said, and took his hands off the food.

     “Let’s eat.”

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