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Kevin Clark

 

 

SIXTIES VESPERS

The center of the Cyclone is the meeting place
                                                                       --John Lilly

College kids, we dreamt girls other-
worldly, naked, each blouse drifting
into the night’s stoned air, erotic white
spirals of a joint's smoke. Above Jo’s dark
flat, we chanted like sleepless novitiates
into the elevations of our paneled apartment.
Now, while our wives doze topless down shore
and our kids climb boulders, pry histories
from the tea-colored shells, Ralph agrees
to muse on Jo, the single, blonde doctoral
student in psychology. He’d thought
he loved her, five years older, an enigma
of rue quiet and floating breasts, the hard
blues riff from Hardly Dead’s hash guitar,
the chord we drank every Friday at Pete’s
Wrong Side. Later we’d stare from
our split window out through the park's
starlit filigree of Spanish moss. Jo’s bed
rose from the shadows of our not-seeing
into the buoyant, silken mattress of a fantasy,
a merging beyond the earthbound circuits
where our girlfriends split rent and lids
across town. When the mystic talk
turned tired, we’d lament their flaws.
Ralph often said Jo was a woman,
her studio the center of the vortex.
But we still laughed in half-hearted synch,
too timid to break off the habit
of hippie girlfriends who came with good grass.
Those days, the idea wasn’t to grow up
but, rather, to transform. Quicksilver
spinning from the Girard, we’d cast
our own unwritten manifestoes—
in the numinous amber burn of a joint
arced slowly between us girls were
the cyclonic answer, union as atemporal
passage to the near world, Lilly’s still center.
And that’s the rub today. Here on tape,
slow as sleep, Chet Baker’s jazz horn
attenuates the old dream. The thousand
tableau of girls we spoke in churchly tones
seem particulates in this angling sunlight.
Now a woman is something less, as are we.
Strands of my wife’s hair arch a second
in the first breeze of the late afternoon.
Behind her, I’m all admiration.
I describe for Ralph the way she spits
words sideways from her mouth in
dead-on impersonations of my old
north Jersey yawps. Sometimes she
does it as the last come-on, when
the night’s sex is a sure thing and
the giddy freedom to roll over one another
invokes a talky foreplay. Lately
as I listen like an astronomer prying
the sky for word of something else,
the protons sing their orbital song
beneath translation. I understand Baker's
lush phrasing around the air’s emptiness.
I play the cut again for Ralph. The horn
as a lung's unheaving, old as dope,
a sad numbing salve. For me, there’d been
the divine theory. It was the scented
blonde skin of Jo. It was the conjugal
dream we held ourselves to be: brave
young travelers orbiting past the last
radium dust. In this annual week-long
heirloom together, Ralph likes to say
we've crossed so much country to get here.
He winces at the old stories. I like
their lyric antiquity. But he's right,
we can go too far, the old celestial charge,
like dreams of flying over bar tables at Pete's,
Jo gliding the sawdust aisles as she never did.
Here, the kids slosh through the tide pools
in exaggerated shivers, begging for towels
and food. Lobster trawlers chug to port
with our evening choice. One last time
we study the wives lying close-eyed in the end
of sunlight, no longer topless. One speaks
to the horizon, the other barely nods, waves
of heat lessening on their skin. Both bend
their legs up, and hold. In the brilliant
fractals of Maine sun, I squint. A corona
flares and dims to an inverted vortex,
the lovely, literal swell of my wife’s breast.

 

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