—in memory of Patricia Highsmith’s “Oona”
In the country of windfall apples
and chicory stubble, the blue glow
of hidden things molded by every fall,
a man left his wife, his Nora,
and when she smiled, her mouth
was like a squat fork lacking the two central tines,
a gap in her upper teeth that gave
her family misery away.
Woman of fraught days, dying fields.
She wrapped her hair in a dry,
coppery bun. Soon, the other men
of that country, who had watched her
for a long time, moved in on her,
for they had always detected something
sensual in the way she threshed
the grass, her stare sharp, locked,
a look that told them her heart
was wan with indifference, compliance.
They heard her say in dreams they never
remembered: Come and touch
the dark spaces, come and stave
my grief for which there is no cure.
One man fixed her rusted well,
one built her a gambrel barn,
and still another fetched
her the best shoat he could find
in three counties. A few brought
flowers, candy, tins of sweetbread.
Soon they offered nothing,
for she smiled at them all the same, let them
stick their tongues and fingers
in that hollow gap without the least
resistance. Nora’s belly never grew,
though gossip swelled, churned,
as gossip will: Even old men,
mostly silent, gathered
to gum their tobacco on
moth-freighted porches at nightfall
to tell what they had heard,
scandal igniting the long-dim heartwood
of their minds. The other women
of that country, growing
bitter, hateful, spat her name,
snarled at the far meadow
where she bent with work.
Hated the ease with which their men slid
into her exhaustion, the ease
with which the days stitched together.
Nights, these women did not
dream of the one who forsook Nora,
how he stopped to witness
the wild furnaces of moonflowers
burn, to catch the stretched, pineal heads
of poplars grown heavy and bowed
with storm. How the seams
between branches revealed
nothing save distant fires that gave
no light. They knew nothing of how he went on,
away from that country, withdrew into dark
between white and laughing leaves.