SECOND HAND COAT
We lay in his king-sized bed, me and the man I’d met hours before at the beach, the aria of my orgasm still echoing in the still summer air, disturbing the dust motes into pale paisley swirls that hung in bars of sunlight over the white sheets. Those were the days I believed I could love anyone, giving my body away like bread, my lips swollen from kissing. He told me his wife had recently died in this bed, suicide. I didn’t look at him or touch his hand. I stared up at the nubbled ceiling, its white moonscape, and continued to breathe. There were boxes half-packed, the walls whiter in squares where he’d taken pictures down, rice paper lampshades stacked in a corner near a small potted palm, a silver mister. We smoked a whole pack of cigarettes down to their white filters, crushing them into a saucer propped on a pillow between us. He said he’d woken soaked in her blood. He was from somewhere back east. His name was Sellers McKee. We were together, if you could call it “together”, for a few weeks. One night we stayed up late, ate pizza and watched Jay Leno. I smeared sauce on the bedspread and when I got up to clean it he said Don’t bother, I’ll use it for packing. Later, we had a fight about whether the word decorative was pronounced dec-ra-tive or décor-a-tive. Every day something would disappear, the clock from the kitchen, every white mug in the cupboard, a plaster cast of a someone’s left hand. Once he came over to meet my mother because she was from Maine and he’d grown up somewhere near there. He brought her the potted palm as a gift. They talked and flirted for hours while I did something else. Toward the end he had a party, invited a bunch of his friends. He took my hand and pulled me into the bedroom. Someone in the living room turned the music down right in the middle of my notorious song. He kept saying Go on, It’s okay and I suddenly got it that he wanted them to hear it, that he’d set me up. I could never decide if that bothered me or not. The last day he told me to open the closet. I looked in at her dresses, arrayed in color-coded rows, white silk blouses and black pencil skirts, sandals, then heels, then winter boots. He said Take anything you want. I settled on a coat, tan with tortoise-shell buttons, a creamy cashmere lining you could unzip and discard in spring. I was overwhelmed by his generosity. I kept saying Thank you, thank you as he led me to the door. Then it was over, and for the next few weeks I went out with a garbage man who’d pick me up in a big white truck. His name was Sam, which I probably only remember because I sang it like a child’s song whenever he called. It’s Sam, I’d sing, Sam, Sam the garbage man, if he can’t do it no one can, and he’d say, deadpan, nothing in his voice at all, Yeah, yeah, darlin, it’s me.
Lightly, she had to touch him lightly,
because he almost wasn’t there, that first boy
who came to her beneath the drunken stars,
clothes unwound like bandages revealing
the flesh that glowed within like bread, salty
clavicle, arched bone filled with marrow
she sucked as her womb shook, the bellows
of her breasts billowing, soft pillows
he now pressed his tilted head against,
his breath unspooling into the hollow
of her throat, lifting the finest hairs
at her neck’s nape. She stroked him then,
like a horse, his long back, his darkling spine,
and watched the grasses on the hills sway
and ripple, listened to the loud crickets
chip away the night. She had stepped
into the oldest church, the windows
broken, her bare feet on stones hauled up
from the valley below thousands of years ago,
the sun and stars still inside them, and she had
stood there, a non-believer, and wept.
A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Dorianne Laux’s fourth book of poems, Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award and was short-listed for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and is a winner of the Pushcart Prize. Laux is the author of Awake (1990) What We Carry (1994) Smoke (2000) and Superman: The Chapbook (2008), and the chapbook, Dark Charms by Red Dragonfly Press. She teaches at North Carolina State University.