Windy height, second floor prison:
you watched your back yard, safe in a bedroom
muffled in layers of time
while down below, new shoots still pierced bare dirt
to meet the stakes of the picket fence,
sloping down toward spines of cattails on the water's bank,
where plain posts divorce the stubble of lawn
from the tangled freedom of the lake.
Fifty miles away, I sat by my open window
watching raindrops speckle a white sill,
spatter my cheeks while I waited
without any word from you but
distant rumbling thunder.
In the sanctity of your room,
the raucous clamoring of ducks
punctured your still time-bubble,
shredding your meditation, their flying shadows rippling
through your room, crying rumors of my storm
out where time still moved.
You leaned out your own high window
above the circling ducks,
their shadows gliding over those who paddled
in the sharp scent of ozone, air gray as my picture.
You were pondering distance, pondering depth.
What prompted you
to unplug, to sever yourself, cut free,
leaving only white sky
spliced by the black pole of the bird feeder,
the wind shaking trees, until one lone voice
dropped your gaze down, down, down?
Trapped, you must have seen me as
your one way out, your one highway exit
from the dizzying speed of the brutal freeway,
leaving you, paradoxically, in a backwater, dead-end town,
brackish, closed-lipped, old-fashioned clothes, ingrown,
too shy for strangers, a numbing quiet,
no gambling, no cathouses,
no way back.
But that town worshipped you:
you were a hero, dark gunslinger
with a cigar on his lip, a biting tongue,
a thousand yarns about distant lands,
and eyes haunted by knowledge that
had you by the throat,
a past that wouldn't let go.
What was I to you?
a tongue-tied virgin, a slopmistress of hogs,
innocent Reena of the birds,
a sidekick dressed as a boy, hunting her lost brother,
Joan Crawford guarding her saloon?
We were all tied, all trapped, the whole town
by your looks and your gun-trained hands,
by the heart where it spilled through your eyes.
Bewitched, we let you live our lives,
filling days with the dark clouds of your gloom
while your horse kicked dust as you desperately sought light
everywhere but inside, and we
sank down and down and down
Into the fenced yard where your gaze jerked now,
drawn by lost bleating.
Did you breathe my spell across the miles,
imbibed through ozone?
Below, a frantic, down-backed baby
fumbled for a fence-hole escape
while your dogs, fanged marshals,
jealous wardens of a limited land,
tore tail-feathers free one by one.
Some sameness sparked you, made you
dive through the door, the ripple of time
closing over your feet as you
hurtled downstairs, grabbed her, pinned her
trembling feathers against your breast,
to feel the bone beneath.
Strange love rushed through you
while you cursed the dogs: joy
burned your throat as you struggled to hold
this wild, winged thing
until exhaustion glazed her eye.
Tamed, at haven, she might thank you,
might paddle at your heels once the dogs were chained,
forgetting to long for sky,
for the lonely stretches of reeds and mire.
Feathers ruffled with the wind
as you stroked her back.
She gazed up with glazed eyes.
You shivered as the clamor of my phone call
pierced the barrier to jangle through your house.
You leaned over the fence,
splinters poking your stomach
as you stretched to release her.
She huddled, too scared, too tame.
You yelled till she ran, squawking,
flapping stubby wings,
soon lost amid grown ducks and rain.
You watched her go,
the rain prickling your skin,
while dusk seeped into your house
through open windows
with the dark smear of coal
like the candle-ash from the letters I burned in your name.
Later that night, time's steps flitted through the house--
too late to stop that insidious invasion.
You called at last in the dim electric hours,
this story your apology,
no other explanation:
a tired freedom I failed to recognize at first.
I sat numb while your voice released me with a click
and time flowed out of your house
into mine, and I struggled to find
a way to live alone
now that you'd cast me out of Eden.
Poet's Notes: This poem, one of a series written for an ex-beloved, found me trying to reconcile myself to a freedom I might have needed, but did not want. His tale of the duck, a true story, which he told to me close to our first farewell, struck me as entirely too apt for the careful way he was releasing me, waiting until I was safe, past the danger of botching my graduation through grief. But the break in my heart was so sharp it took years to dream what that freedom might be for, and all the while I kept searching for a way back in.
Editor's Note: My emotions are swirling like the tempest in the poem as I write these comments. Sometimes sensitive, poetic women fall in love with bad boys. They see the poet underneath the swagger, the Romeo buried deep within the Don Juan, the gentle soul ruled by a wild, violent spirit. What woman could resist? Ms. Gardner tells this age-old story well and captures the conflicting feelings perfectly with her conceit of the ducks.
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