Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956 (Photograph, Diane Arbus)
Here is the way, she
seems to say, I’ve learned
to be. See how I lean
forward, slightly, as if it
is not there and my eyes
at you but to the left,
down as if demurely,
but shoulders hunched,
the chin not ducked.
This is not a pose
as I pause and pose for you—
clutching my pocketbook,
in both hands, leaning
slightly forward, the white
gloves my center.
Check Out Line (Spirit Food Mart, Weed, CA)
Yes, I see your red white ’n blue flag
tattooed just below your T-shirt sleeve
rolled up to hold your cigarettes.
And how it waves
as you flex in time
to something in your head
like you’re leaning against a Harley
in a Viagra commercial—
denimed in the blue light
and now truly still as simple as then.
Or as you remember then,
when the ponytails lined up for rides
and you believed, truly,
you’d never get caught—
the oven timer ticking,
and needing, Oh truly, some way out.
But that’s not the then you finger like pocket change
waiting in this fluorescent line
to pass a plastic card across the counter
for some Marlboros, Slim Jims, and a roll of Tums—
remembering without remembering
the ponytails and windy sun
as you lean her through the turn
and open the throttle as the road
straightens to somewhere
that didn’t lead here.
A Tomb for Melvin, Who Has None
for Luther Melvin Wilson, 1906-19??
You were the one who drifted away. So many years ago
and no letters home. You are dead now. Somewhere.
I was almost too young to notice your passing through
those few weeks or months I remember now as a single evening:
Rainy, that apartment your mother had taken—a room
in a cheap motel and the gas heater’s doubled row of blue flickers
a kind of hearth as the others circled as if unsure if you were still
family. And your mother sure you’d come back
again to be her boy, a comfort in her aging.
Then gone again: to the beach in winter, a freight train north
come summer: that modulating ecstasy of wine or whiskey
and the body paying its price as you watched.
Does it matter where? Or when? Warm in a boxcar
or shivering in the rain, fading toward the shakes
as the burning twigs hissed out. Or the moon like a pal
glimpsed through a palm swaying to some unheard ukulele.
Not really. It happened. Somewhere. And you were found, or not.
So, I offer this as if it could matter, as you once mattered
to that woman, your mother, as you passed through that last time
and drifted on true as always to the courage of your desire, to death.
Tim Hunt’s collections include Voice to Voice in the Dark (forthcoming Broadstone Books) and Ticket Stubs & Liner Notes (winner of the 2018 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award). Originally from the hill country of northern California, he lives in Normal, Illinois, which is not hill country.