SHARON, CAMP BOB COOPER: SANTEE, SC, 1996
Each morning, my campers pledged allegiance to the United States of America and to the 4 H's: head, heart, health, and hands. Each morning, I thought of hers then and later when I taught them to steer a canoe in one direction by paddling in the other, showed them how to use each other's bodies as stepping stools or shelter. I led them in prayer, imagining her slender neck. When we passed the grist mill on the lake trail, I told my girls the legend of the Man Who Fell In, how he could be seen sometimes through the broken, blackened windows. How we were forbidden. That night, they began to build their own nightmares while I rested on a cot nearby. Only then did I read her postcards, though it had been easy enough to pretend that she was a he: her name rode a line and her signature rubbed it further. There was a needful force to our kissing, but she was mostly the written word, hiding her body from me. Except her ghost-like hands and that throat, smooth as glass. Distracted by the frenzied flicker of their flashlights, I rapped at the window, heard the girls scream, then shush each other.
THE WIDOW AND THE MAILMAN
Her body: a bicycle factory deep in the red
and wheel-less. She didn’t realize how much
she’d hate feasting without him (not even
the swollen pigeon pea on a fork moves her,
and each white grain of rice turns to a sleeping
maggot at the table), didn’t know she needed him
at night, didn’t know she loved him at all until
she hated him for leaving. She beats her breasts
until they are bruised onions: should have burned
with him, her skin smoking parchment paper
lifted from muscle. Within her, gears and pedals
go loose and spin, frames scrape brick, cinderblock.
I don’t know. I bring her mail, a fist of ginger,
a dusty, swishing coconut. Sometimes a book
of matches. I am a literal man. Inside the four-walls-
and-nothing-else of her bedroom, I am
the dumb one who loves her, even wailing.