A native of Johnstown, NY, I retired in June 2016 after 29 years of teaching writing and literature at Ripon College in Wisconsin. I've published six collections of poetry, including Stutter Monk and Second Wind; I also co-edited (with Kate Sontag) the essay anthology After Confession: Poetry as Confession. Essays, reviews, and individual poems have appeared widely, both in print and online. In recent years I've spent nearly as much time on photography as poetry. A gallery of my work is online here: http://instagram.com/doctorjazz
Melanie the Marvelous
You don’t know me, Melanie,
and I don’t even know
your last name, so perhaps
you’re wondering why I’m
calling your name into morning air
thirty years after I
came upon you in the supermarket,
that purgatory of fluorescents
and sickening music,
where all the produce looks
like cartoon food,
and love seems distant
as heat lightning.
But love did come to you,
didn’t it, Melanie?
—in the form of some boy
made splendidly dopey by it,
calling your name over and over
up and down the overlit aisles,
Melanie, Melanie, Melanie,
giving it a little lilt and
melody, Melanie the Marvelous,
Melanie—till at last he arrived
shamble-dancing down our aisle
amid the canned goods,
a head of cabbage cradled
in one hand like a corsage,
and in the other a loaf
of French bread, he came
to you at your stunned cart,
and your smile
was a down deep wonder,
and that smile still hovers
in the air before me today
clear as November wind.
Of course you kissed
and you hugged
through your puffy jackets,
both laughing hard by the soup
and spaghetti sauce, and
you didn’t speak his name,
as I recall, but he couldn’t
stop saying yours.
Oh, Melanie, Melanie, it seems
I can’t stop saying your name,
though I’ve no clue
what happened to you and that
holy fool as you both
plodded down thirty more years
of hallways and aisles,
together or—who knows?—apart,
but no doubt you were
shrunken and bleached by the years
as they nudged you along
to whatever we call Now.
And I sure don’t know
but I can guess
how a love so resolutely goofball
may have fared, but I
won’t say a word on that now, as
I said nothing then,
just witnessed and listened,
for I find myself still
in favor of love in all its strange
branching forms and secret flames
So I just wanted to say
I remember you, Melanie,
as you were on that washed-away
day, blushing through your
laughter at the dead center
of your life—and mine, too!—
there at the ragged Food Lion store
in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Why can't I remember my long walking?
Maybe pebbles went rolling underfoot,
maybe I startled to a dog's lunging,
maybe one day the rain drove slantwise
like these thoughts I shake off, and stand dripping.
It may have been hard going, I don't know.
This weariness feels like some sad pleasure,
as if I had proved something. But what?
To tramp all this way without an address?
To stumble over a bare threshold grinning?
It is the house of my oldest friend--
now marrying a woman I don't know.
The orchids in her hair give no odor
that I can tell. Her smile that's not for me
plays upon his dream-lit face like a flame
unburning. Yet haven't I brought blessings
for them both? Isn't the smudged mug of pink tea
in my hand a gift? When he looks my way
at last, I say, "It's cold, and I drank half
myself." Neither of us can stop laughing.
First published in Second Wind. (Texas Tech University Press, 1990)
©2016 David Graham
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