FLIRTATION IN THE FRONT PARLOR


Good lord, here I am-again. Shameless- 
ly flirting with someone else's wife. 
She, rooted in place like a deer in bright 
light, darts her frantic eyes to my double- 
jointed fingers-searching for a diamond. 
The moment, the one in which she hands me a glass 
of gin, lingers. My soused whispers of gratitude send her 
crashing backward into a tray of hors d'oeuvres. 

Forgive me, I have neglected to mention we 
have just weathered another funeral. Outside, palms trees 
stand like barfly soldiers-alert but pissy 
drunk from the heat. Along the ravine, wax gleams 
from mammoth black armies of land-yachts. Their bumpers hem 
in the yard-a grinning abutment of metal. Stay here, please, 
I plead, and it is only because it's my cousin who's died 
that she step towards the crumbling edge of my voice with a sigh. 

The stern mouth from which her pale breath escapes 
is the abattoir of my heart. The sheer dearth 
of this emotionless vessel astounds me. Her lips part 
To taste the delicacy of this sinewy sweetbread. 
And though I am the Jonah to be swallowed hole, she is one afraid. 
Afraid as she casts sparks from the shadows. A net of light rakes 
across the planes of her face as its arc is flung wide, 
seizing meanings of which her mind remains unapprised. 

I can see that she finds me attractive, 
but she is not, nor will she ever be, 
attracted to me. She is less interested in me 
than my practiced show of indifference. 
What intrigues her is this ill-timed dalliance. 
This is the life those left to bury the dead must live: 
pain snapping at raw heels, threatening to overtake 
you in broad daylight, and you are left to wait, waiting. 

Why tell her that I have flown from Norway to be here? 
No, better to let her ponder my sincerity; 
Unlike the sweat-drenched bereaved who surround me, 
I have slipped out of my straight black garb, the hose, 
then both polyester slip and girdle, into a queer show 
of holey jeans and bare feet. My swollen toes bear 
down upon the linoleum like hot buttons, as her crossed arms 
broadcast her contempt for my lack of decorum. 

Even laboring beneath this grief, I cannot stop myself 
from choosing the words I will later use to relate 
this moment in ink. I hastily commit the details-the date, 
the airless hearse ride, this geechee woman, her pittypat drawl 
-to faulty cisterns of memory upon which to draw 
when only the rigor of writing can save me from myself. 
By the time this shade has moved on to yet another 
with her offers of liquid comfort, I will undoubtedly love her. 

How is this woman to know that half of me 
staves off this baying hound with easy flirtations 
and the inadequacies of the written word? The temptation 
is never to turn around and face the gaunt beast who stalks 
behind you, breathing in your ear. Without warning, I walk 
away, leaving her cuddling an emotion she can't bear to name. 
Confusion mangles her mien as she sees the other half of herself. 
Yes, she is vexed with me, but imagine how I am with myself.