A Day Away with Nancy
We had a perfect day in the most magical of cities.
We rode the Path to 23rd St and on the Hoboken ferry
stood at the rail facing a warm Hudson River breeze.
We tore up hot dog bun, threw bits
to the gulls and told ourselves Grampa’s Irish story
that ends with “Be they gulls or bhys, they’re damned
foine pigeons. She laughed that throaty laugh that
always put a lump in my throat and the wind blew
the skirt of her summer dress about her knees.
In Hoboken the longshoremen in the barroom of
The Clam Broth House watched with longing eyes as she
floated past the bar and I knew their longing.
Across the street the beer at the bar
in the ferry terminal turned to ambrosia
when she peered smiling at me over the lip
of her sherry glass.
On the ferry back to Manhattan she coaxed memory bits
of war from me until with a loving woman’s wisdom
she knew that I had said all I ever would say about it.
On the train home we talked mostly about how it
had once been, swimming in the surf, walking the beach,
sneaking Papa’s booze, and reading poems aloud,
even about being apart in wartime
and we sat close together, holding hands, thighs and
calves melding, trading warmth. When tears welled up
in her gold-flecked hazel eyes I stroked her hair,
murmured of love.
At home we kissed goodnight. She was in my arms,
her lips were warm and soft and a little open.
I ached to slip my tongue between them.
But you can’t do that with your mother.
Now when I am very old, Nancy still sneaks up
on me laughing breathlessly.
She is a beautiful young woman and I shall always be in love.
We would call one night of each vacation
"Outposts of Empire" night.
At Arcadia or Camden Hills,
At Letchworth or Fire Island,
Wherever we might be camping,
She'd spread the big linen
Damask tablecloth on the picnic table,
Fold the linen napkins into their rings,
Set the places with our best silverware,
Brought from home just for tonight.
Each place would get a crystal salt cellar
With its tiny glass spoon.
For light we'd have the wedding-present
Candlesticks with tall white tapers.
I'd wear my tweed sport jacket and
A shirt and tie.
She'd have brought
A pretty dress with all the fixin's.
I'd mix two perfect vodka martinis
Straight up, with an olive.
(We both preferred them on the rocks;
But this was "Outposts of Empire" night
And stems lend class to a cocktail.)
We would dine elegantly by candlelight,
It didn't matter, I think, on what we dined.
We'd share a bottle of wine,
Dance, if the right music came on the radio;
High heels don't dance easily on turf;
But then, City people don't move around
A lot, dancing. We would linger long
At table to talk;
God, how we'd talk!
She might have just read another Anais Nin,
Or have blocked on paper some new Albee play.
She'd tell me about it.
I might be excited
Over some new-to-me Ginsberg or a great
New poet whose name and work I have now forgotten.
(One time I had just read the script
Of "Oh Calcutta!") and we talked about that.
We would rail at some new perfidy of
Government or industry.
We, like our children, were usually in
Protest about something; and we'd talk about that.
Eventually, inevitably, we would get around
To us. Voices would become whispers,
The whispers, kisses. And, sometimes,
The jacket would go and the dress,
And some of the fixin's,
And, those times, we'd make love.
One time we made love right there,
On the picnic table,
On the white linen tablecloth.
I remember it well because
We spilled the Worcestershire sauce
And the next day we had to find
A laundromat to get it out.
It was good. It was very good
When, in grownups' game
Of Let's Pretend,
We were the last outpost
Of a vanished empire.
Slip into one of the dinks.
Drift into the dark
away from the rafted up boats and
the parents too far gone in
their own things to notice.
Drift to wherever the tide takes you.
Drift until way down the beach
the boat grates aground.
Wade ashore and plow with
barefoot care through the rushes,
by starlight to the dunes,
terrorizing a pair of baby rabbits,
startling brooding seagulls
into squawking protest.
And, among the beach plum
and bayberry bushes,
at the top of a dune,
find a bed of fine, dry sand
warm with heat hoarded in the day
against the cool of this night.
Sit together on a spread shirt and
listen to the murmurous sounds of
nesting birds and drowsy small animals
all around this secret place.
Laugh and whisper about the splashings
and watery furor of love and war
out there in the shallows.
Lie back to watch clouds chase
one another across the sky.
Then on the long row back
savor with new joy the mingled
scents of bayberry, salt sea and
fecund mud of the bay bottom.
Feel the distant rumble of surf
on the ocean beach.
Hear, as if for the first time,
the calling of awakening shore birds.
Watch with new and delighted wonder
the whirlpools of pale green light that
flare brightly and fade away as the oars
stir the warm waters of the bay.
Old men forget.
Old men forget doctors' names,
What they wanted at the store,
Why they went down the hall.
Old men forget
What they had for breakfast.
Old men forget everything
But what were best forgotten,
Friends betrayed, promises not kept,
Duty neglected, love rejected,
All come to haunt old men
In the lonely time
When it is too late to make amends.