How it will be,
what will happen, what they will say

A dark summer room. You are clean,
damp from polite showers, curious, in a thin white gown.
His spine curves to you from bed's edge, hesitating
before this virgin sacrament, as if you'll stroke a cross of blood
on his blonde random head, parade him in sackcloth of stained sheets,
so everyone will know. You will lose patience with his timid thrusting,
wonder if you were right, that you would grow up and not like it.
He breathes a nervous chant into your skull:
are you all right? are you all right?

The purple evening of the day after, it rains light like salt,
as you drive up the coast on two hours of sleep.
You brake too late, twist your foot with a crack,
your car slips slow and easy, like a letter into an envelope,
front bumper under a pickup truck.
The driver squats to inspect, then circles to your window
and taps: are you all right? are you all right?

In the lobby of Bob's Big Boy you phone, refuse coffee,
cry as quietly as possible from a booth by wet windows.
Lights of the pie case shine through her thin peach hair,
the waitress who shakes your elbow:
Honey, are you all right?

Your lover's father is a man who can tow, who drags you north
to your lover's childhood home where there is venison in the freezer,
a chenille spread on the day bed where the little sister used to sleep.
You huddle with yourself, and out of dark paneling
he comes, your lover with his dry kisses,
the racist jokes behind his eyes, a bag of ice for your foot.
He kneels at your hip, adoring your every joint.
You dip towards codeine dreams, slide further
from his faint dumb voice: are you all right?

How it will be: Less than you hoped, and more than you could take.
What will happen: Never what you expected, and things you will not understand.
What they will say: are you all right? are you all right?

1997 Jessica Manke


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