Poem

Sentimental Standards

All day, as if all the adages applied, the watched pot
and stopped clock never moved, the square
        of window glass stayed fraught
with yellow (sunlight to this day can stare
intolerably from its mad-making, inching, unitchable

hours)—until, of course, they did. Simmering night.
And the faulty bell half rung, a wrung squawk
        like a hand clapped across a mouth, tightened
the visceral squeeze of erotic talk
the rational self could not shut up … A self set up?

I suppose. But beyond that, out in those trackless
margins torch songs arrow in to, the heart-
        piercing suspicion that This might actually
be It. And in It came. You, to be precise. Art-
fully disguising your surprise, you later explained, that I

wasn’t the other girl at the game, whose poker sense
was fine, whose high-strung invitation you assumed
        this was. Ah, love. The innocent
are so few
, Elizabeth Bowen wrote, that two of them
seldom meet. When they do, their victims lie strewn

all round. But our victims (mine)
proved otherwise. Bowen’s forecast snake, like oiled silk,
        like a length of live water, climbed
the sentimental standards in my brain and willed
itself elsewhere. What we dared after that I think

you have feared ever since—illusion gone, our fate
snakebit. But, my dear, it’s been twenty-five years.
        I’m still that mistake
at the door, who knew what she was in for.
And you? Still not certain it’s not deceit,

keep faith with my stratagems anyway. And raise
my fingers, one by one, to kiss them on
        their very tips, whose flayed
electric charge is shivering yet—in almost song—
to keep the standard set.