Spring/Summer 1994, Volume 11.2
Poetry


PAUL SWENSON


The Plunge

State Capitol at night:
a pillared anteroom, so dimly lit
an ashtray's sand seems pure Sahara.
The halls of government are quiet
brocade mutes the marbled walls
her whispered conversation
calls me close. The shaft of light
in which we sit is private space:
a universe of intimate relation.
We have not yet embraced,
yet what we say embraces everything.
Dark beauty in her shadowed face
hides joy or pain, or
something plainly kept for
these few moments in this place.
A stab of disapproval at my back
insists I turn to see the gaunt
bald man whose eyes reflect
our recreant intrusion here
among the halls of the elect.
She takes my hand and we are gone
into the night, and soon we stand
atop a swell of concrete steps. It
is an old, familiar vertigo
that pulls at me. Old Main behind and
down below is College Hill. This
dislocation is a test of will. And
down we go. The canyon breeze
is whistling at our backs. We're
flying, yet my feet still find
the tracks I've left in other
flights. This flight of stairs
(I've flown the course at
least 100 other nights) was meant
to last a century. One step for every
yearthe number carved in wet cement.
We count each step aloud as we
descend into the darkness
that enshrouds the lower hill.
"One hundred," and we're skating
on a concrete sheet that
takes us down past Seventh East
toward my childhood home. I almost
laugh at the clichZwhat will
she say? "Our only night together
and what you show me is this
empty hole in all your dreams?"
The lot is vacant, dark and bare
and when I turn, she isn't there.
The pain is instantaneous and
sharp. From the blindside,
arms of iron take my breath. The
squeeze I'm in is like the grip
of death itself. And yet I'm
moving. The e/motion of the
plunge has yet to stop. I'm
dragging it/It's dragging me
into a darkened lot. I'm
choking now for lack of air, and
pinned against a basement stair,
I turn to face my fear.
"Come take me; do your worst."
With that, the vision bursts.
The final scene's a basement
room. The teasing smile she
turns on me is one of
ambiguity. How many times
I ask, and more importantly,
to whom? She doesn't say.
And one more thing, I ask,
how did I do? Not bad,
she shrugs, and turns away.
 
The Meeting

She spoke to me in the unnatural radium
glow of a hotel lobby late one August
night where the half-life/half-
light of our encounter became the luminescent
stuff of dream. The beam of shining
particles in which our minds arranged
themselves was meant for strange attraction:
an electron shift, an interaction so mysterious
I almost loved the coming dark when
after one embrace
she would be gone.
Closing my eyes, I sometimes saw her imprint
on my lidsghostly, indistinct. But then
my eyes winked open to another August. There
in the hot, harsh sun, she was the
one I couldn't fathom: tangible
and almost painfully alive,
her blue-green eyes deep like the sea,
her shirt a metaphorical map of
the Southwestcactus and cattle skulls
against a white-hot sky.
Do you mind wet hair?
she said, standing there in
the cool doorway of a borrowed house
holding a towel
high on a hill on a street with no name.
Did I mind? Did she
think I was blind to the way
the damp strands clung to her neck? But
her eyes framed the question
differently: Will you accept my vulnerability?
I blink once more, the scene is changed:
another hotel night, another corridor. Our molecules
have rearranged; we're every age we've ever been.
The fragile child in her is now enfolded
by a woman's fierce experience. And in the dark
her dimpled laughter is a spark of fire. But
sand is falling in the glass,
this tactile moment fades. I lose
the now and focus on the when
we'll meet again.