Dirty Hands

Sitting under a cheap stamped early light fixture
he could imagine it was he who drove the Pontiac
all the way to Florida on only one quart of oil,
something it was impossible to explain to his new girlfriend
floating in her hot tub under a Niagara grape arbor.
He took a bite of sandwich and lived on the richness
of that dark wallpaper; he thought it was round fishes
and not just some green design made in Toledo,
the wallpaper capital of the world before the First War.
He wanted to tell her how worn out he used to be
at four in the morning crossing the empty highway
to start his second night and how he struggled
with the dirty stove so he could just move his fingers;
and he wanted to tell her what it was like luging eggs
in the Union Station in all that smoke, his lungs
turning to stone, his hands bleeding for years,
his eyes bloodshot, but that was when he touched
her face and the moon camethrough the grapes, the part
where the roof didn't shade the arbor, making a valley
not so different from what he knew, two clouds
breaking off like dogs breaking off, the rabbit silent
and running with his legs on fire, it was
a memory of the sun; he thought of their mouths
all open, the grapes were hard, the water was boiling
driving through West Virginia, the oil was smoking
under the hood, his eyes were closed, his hands were soaking.

:: Gerald Stern, Last Blue (Knopf, 2000)

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