Twelve Seconds – A Poem

 

Twelve Seconds

The touch of bitter frost fills her words.
Words luminous pivoting between fragility
and sublime.

I meet her on campus in November.
She wears white boots and I am buttoning
my coat. Rust gathers on her eyelashes.

Over her shoulder is slung a camera.
“You have twelve seconds,” she says.
A man beside her sticks the tip of his right shoe
into the cut grass. They play
at love.

There is not a breeze. Trees on the green
are hushed and slumbering. I fumble
in my pockets searching for an
excuse, but come up empty.

“Give me the camera,” he says to her.
I make up a name for him. “Give me the camera,”
Romeo says to her. “I’ll take the picture. Give
me the camera. I’ll take the fucking picture.”

Romeo is an ass, but maybe not. I am biased, and
he could just be late for class.
There is a robin
hunting worms. Another girl is with them, in back, in their
shadows. She laughs
while nervously twisting her hair.
Her name is Rosaline.

Romeo holds his hand out for the camera.
Unfinished thoughts float temporarily suspended
and unpunished. Beginnings craving for
a sense of permanence
begin to end.

Notes from a string quartet eerily emanate
from the nearby auditorium.
Its doors are open. I shiver as the music
muted by distance
creeps about us, passing through our clothes,
slithering over our skin. Caterpillars
frozen asleep in our hearts waken,
gnaw and burrow into
the warm soft muscle and melt.

Juliet, oh Juliet, merely removes her camera to
let it gracefully slip from her fingers
and fall to the ground.
“You are a dull knife, darling, useless
and damned,” she says to him.

Romeo the fair and noble
realizing his error
straightens himself and takes refuge in his ego.
“And your words, my love,” he replies
“are venom. Each after the other
dripping vile from your lips.
Come on Rosy Rosa. Let’s go. We’re running behind.
Fuck this.” And he leaves
with Rosaline closely trailing
and Juliet
on the green stands alone – spellbound
under the charm of a November chill.

I rise from the bench to recover the camera lying at
Juliet’s feet
and offer it to her.

“Is it wrong to hate the gospels?” she asks me. “For some
reason I cannot stomach them.” Her eyes, a deep
vacant green,
focus on my hands.

“Try Hemingway instead,” I suggest and her lips
part slightly as she sighingly laughs.

“You know, I can’t tell the difference any longer
between tomorrow and yesterday.” She looks up to me.

“Will you afford me the same luxury?” I ask her.

“Professor?”

“Walk away.”

She smiles. Her warm hands touch mine
and she pushes the camera back to me. I can feel
the ice in the cracks
of her dry lips as she kisses my cheek.

“You have twelve seconds,” she tells me.

“There is a girl, a daughter, abandoned
in a Montana wheat field. She is golden
and dangerous. Walk away, Persephone, and leave winter
in your wake.”

And I count the seconds as she leaves.
I count her steps and
the space between heartbeats that are bleeding
out on to the blades of grass.
I take her picture and capture
a metamorphosis in white boots caught mid-step,
she is turning her head to look back
at me
her face a blur of motion.

 

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