2 Poems–William Jolliff

Story In Another Language

The musty scent of old pages
lingers along lower shelves—
religion, history, and at last
romance.  One thick one
flakes cheap gilt and hides
in a language I do not read.
But the plates are finely etched:
first there are cattle that stand
like lingering gods on a prairie
I do not recognize, beside
a river I cannot name.
Next is a train that pulls
along the platform in some
non-essential town.
The people waiting stare
through the coaches’ windows,
but no one waves.

Finally there is a cabin that
could be West Virginia.
A thin woman stands on the step,
embraced by an anxious man
with a valise and a mustache
that curls beneath his lower lip.
He is D. H. Lawrence-drunk
with the press of her breast.
But, still in his embrace,
she looks over his shoulder
at all that will not let her
leave—chrysanthemums
along the stone wall, a child’s
carriage in the dooryard,
that shining something more
that hovers above the evergreens,
promising to fall in showers of gold.

Unlucky Stars
A New Age Romance in Portlandia

Like many other nuptial horrors, theirs began
on a holiday. Neither liked crowds,
but who could resist the final chance to hear

Antonia Van Salsa—her very self—speak
on Mewing the Archetypes of Your Inner Cat?
Expensive, but worth it. What’s the price of peace?

Pauline was a waitress and film critic for two
“Free—Take One” weeklies. Reg taught French
at Crosby School for the Blind, his alma mater.

Let alone the more apparent problems,
the love they’d found could conquer anything,
they believed, though they were old enough to know

otherwise. For weeks, like pre-prom kittens,
they strolled malls, whipping past Cinema Six
and Victoria’s Secret, mooning for hours

at Simply Perfect Pretzels. She would throw
her change in the fountain. He would listen
for the kiss of water and coin and tell her

he felt the power of her wish, right here.
Their differences seemed slight, they agreed,
in light of the union of two ancient souls.

The first time they made love, in the arboretum
at a Mount Angel B&B, both shook
with the fullness of unspeakable light,

invisible brilliance. Every nerve danced
a two-step over untouched skin, changed partners
and danced again. Fade to black. Silence.

Now she’s working very hard to expand
into syndication. She meets for drinks
with managing editors or their aides.

Some drive her to dimly lit restaurants.
Some of them tell her she looks lovely.
One violin. She loves the way that sounds,

but resists the implications of kindness,
the accidental brush, the pregnant touch.
She blasts another film, writes another draft.

He is bored with teaching verbs, bored with Sartre,
bored with Zola and even Camus. He is bored
without her at night, and he is bored with her

crass, capitalistic, gross, and fleshly way
of being in the world. He would prefer
the brighter light of a more transcendental

sky, a spirituality that is pure,
that washes away the nature of imperfection.
And he would like more sex, more frequently.

Even on Sunday mornings, they don’t talk much.
Like most potent sobrieties, theirs came after a drunk.
Neither can feel the power of the other’s favorite stars.

WILLIAM JOLLIFF serves as professor of English at George Fox University.  His chapbook, Whatever Was Ripe, won the 1997 Bright Hill Press poetry competition; and his edited collection, The Poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier: A Readers’ Edition, was published by Friends United Press.  He has published critical articles and poems in over a hundred periodicals, including Northwest Review, Southern Humanities Review, Midwest Quarterly, Christianity and Literature, and Appalachian Journal.  His most recent poetry chapbook is Searching for a White Crow (2009).

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