The Common Man
High summer: the leaves in the treetops flash white in warning and you, who are not yet my wife, turn your face to the darkening sky and ask, Can you smell it? Years later, I will head our basil before driving to see you; and amid the jokes of JELL-O and bedpans you’ll ask me again, Can you smell it? But we are not so old, not just yet; and you are just a girl from up the street. It is mid-July and you’re on your toes stretching your body toward the gathering ozone like it’s freshly whipped cream or magnolia blossoms. It will be many years before I remember this day: how when the rain came, you grabbed my hands spinning us both round & round; how when the lightning struck the tree by the house and the hair on my neck stood on end; how I knew at that moment for the very first time that fear and love were one and the same.
The rain sheets the beach and we are content; Main Street vanished, our home forgotten. The teenaged waitress over at Marvin’s, she too is happy. I can tell by the way her eyes outshine her silver studs, the lilt in her step when she brings our fish and mug after mug of beer. Back in our room, we shrug off our shirts and catalog chinos, lie naked on the cotton spread. For fifty cents, the bed vibrates and we are alone once again: you on a train to Coromandel; I’m up on a ladder patching the roof of our first house, the shingles shivering in the March wind. At midnight, I awake to silence: who did I think I’d be by now? And what do I do with who I am? See you tomorrow, the girl had said, her voice rising just enough. Outside the rain has finally stopped. You part the glassy surface of the lowest tide I’ve ever seen. The moon silvers your skin.
This one, I don’t have: you, back at the airport, the stamps on your passport so varied, so rich, the clerk in customs seems to be glowing. I’d like to say here that your eyes are deep blue, like the skies in the country after a storm. But that would be lying; I only remember the deepest of grays, like in that lost picture: feet on the rail of grandmother’s porch—you could be her back then, if the soles of your shoes were filled with black mud, didn’t say All-Star.
It hurts to think that most of our lives fall somewhere between the rush of full color and the fading memory of black & white—between fucking & love. Someone once told me every picture we take steals a small fragment of the subject’s soul. Is that where we gain our darkest addictions: backpackers, musicians, the drunken reporter whose laughter and stories we’d like to obtain—that impossible paycheck received without guilt, without anger?
On the edge of the river, you can find tall grass, a lonely shepherd, and sometimes, I suppose, a warm wool blanket. But those escapes are just for you, you alone. My love is an overturned lantern, terribly empty. My love is behind the counter at the pharmacy window. Are you still searching for the best choice of words to translate my secret? Do you really believe I could keep something from you?
For some, there is an empty tomb. Still others hope to sleep beneath that holy tree. I dedicate myself to the here and now: leaves peeling from the tired elms, yard overgrown with cherry tomatoes, burnt coffee and sirens waltzing on the predawn air. Like a forgotten orchard off a lonely blacktop, my aching branches are full and heavy. Won’t you come find me? Stay for the season?