by David Lee Kirkland
I stand at my window
offer bare breasts, press them
like lilies into the cold glass.
They flatten like new moons.
I wonder who watches,
who might enter the space between.
from Voyeur, by Karla Huston
Anna Louise took us all by surprize, you might say, reading that poem. She keeps the library open late every Tuesday night for the book club, with the first meeting each month being poetry night. Me, well, I’m not much for poetry, though I started driving a widow woman who won’t miss a single session, and admission being free makes the price right.
Last month the topic was Robert Frost. I never did swing birches, like he talked about, but more than a few young maples lowered their heads and me to the ground in my day. That man knew what he was talking about.
“Here’s one of my favorites,” Anna Louise said, and without a paper or book she lifted her head and recited that poem by Karla Huston. I glanced over at Mildred, the widow woman, unable to resist seeing her reaction. She sure had good posture by the end of it–if the poem had gone on much longer I figure she’d have had to stand up. The other book circle folks carried expressions that stretched from dismay to delight.
Anna Louise broke the silence that settled after her recitation.
“Bobby Lee,” she said, looking right at me, “why don’t you start this time? What’d you think?”
It was one time I sure would have like to gone last instead of first.
“Well,” I said, “it’s a world different than Robert Frost.”
That drew a chuckle, the mood softened, and when the pastor’s wife offered a few words of praise for the imagery most everyone–excepting Mildred–joined the conversation. Mildred stayed quiet, which is not the awfulest thing a person can do, but in a discussion group intentional silence speaks pretty loud.
The next day I woke up wondering whatever had made Anna Louise pick such a poem. After all, no poetry drought afflicted the library shelves. More curious, she knew it by heart, a comment Mildred pointedly made when
I walked her out. Such thoughts gathered enough weight to send me wandering down past the library. It doesn’t open until noon, so when I got there Anna Louise was still busy with the opening rush. I found a large print
western, and hung back out of the way until I’d be able to have a quiet word. But she saw me, and waved me over.
“Hello. Nice to see you again,” she said, speaking in a library soft voice.
“Good to see you too. Got a book and a question.”
Her smile set me back some. Brighter than usual, more intense. “I do love a good question.”
“Why’d you pick that poem to read?”
“To get you to notice me. Did it work?”
Flustered. Hardly ever happens to me anymore, and watching her blush as I stood there speechless only increased the feeling. An image shot up in my mind of chumming the shallows with canned corn to get the big suckers to come into range of my treble hooks during gigging season.
“This book any good?” That didn’t answer her question, and it didn’t make me look like a genius, but at least it jump started my brain.
She looked down quickly, almost as if she was embarrassed. “It’s by Dusty Richards. He’s a fine writer.”
Well, she’d made the first move, and now that my tongue was working again the least I could do was make the second.
“It worked, Anna. I didn’t really come down for the book as much as to see you.”
She looked back up. “Thank you. I didn’t expect Mildred would take such offense.”
“It won’t last. She heats up easy, but cools off quick.”
“Come back at four? To talk when the library closes?”
“Better yet,” I suggested, “let’s meet at Gilbert’s Cafe. Fresh pies every Wednesday.”
She smiled. “See you there.”
Gilbert’s was famous once, back when the main highway ran past the town square, back before the bypass was built and sprouted a Wal-Mart and McDonalds. Famous for pie, with twenty kinds on the menu. They still kept a
selection, though not like in the old days. Anna Louise saw me, and headed to my booth. Naturally, I stood up.
That made her smile.
“Not many men do that nowadays,” she said.
“Stand up for a lady.”
She was right, I suppose, though to tell the truth that particular instinct and a few others–like always being on the curb side of the sidewalk when walking with a woman–were about as ingrained as breathing.
She sat. I sat.
“What’s your favorite?” she asked.
I grinned. “Surely a man can have more than just one?”
“Are we still talking about pie?”
“Could be. Strawberry-rhubarb. Hard to beat that. Then again, the black walnut pie is fabulous. Not so sweet as pecan, and more flavorful.”
“You must think I’m terribly forward.”
Her smile dimmed.
“But I like it.”
“Thank you, Bobby. I’m just so tired of bingo, books, and TV. There should be more to life, don’t you think?”
What a wonderful opening. I could not resist. “There is. Fishing.”
The fine lines around her eyes crinkled as she shook her head.
“That’s not what I mean. Are you and Mildred serious?”
“Mildred is always serious, near as I can tell. But, no, we’re not doing more than just keeping occasional company. She can’t drive except during the day, which is why I started coming on Tuesday night.” I paused, then continued. “You must be fifteen years younger than me, maybe twenty. That’s quite a gap.”
“Not quite that large. Eleven years, three months, and eight days. Besides, I’m a grandmother five times over and old enough to make up my own mind about such matters.”
“Well, that’s good, being able to make up your mind, because our waitress is coming over right now.”
Anna Louise ordered banana creme with the sky-high meringue.
Tempted as I was by the custard, it’s not often you can get gooseberry pie, so I had to give it a try. I was awfully curious about her knowing my age, but not enough to ask.
“People may talk,” she said, “about seeing us here together.”
“That’s not a problem,” I replied. “Anyone asks, I’ll tell them we were talking about poetry. It’s close enough to true. Did you memorize that poem just for me?”
Red crept into her cheeks, and that was answer enough. I was mighty pleased, because I’d worked all afternoon on my own surprize, and began to recite the first several lines of a famous poem.
“Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime . . .”
Anna Louise laughed, her eyes sparkling. “Andrew Marvell. Did you memorize his work just for me?”
“You know,” she said, “there might even be more to life than fishing.”
poetry of Karla Huston used with consent