by Maxine Scates


The cut office hours, kids sitting
outside in sunlight, spring, concrete

and cigarette butts, the grass still sodden
with winter, all the wisdom they don’t have

and what little they know about themselves,
their own godliness, their own greed,

all falling away as the man at the lectern
tried to say something about the woman

he’d loved those afternoons, voice quavering,
birds tumbling in flight, seats creaking, students

settling. He was old, the pause seemed
almost holy, the late strings of Beethoven

hovering then answering, as if he would give
that long ago lover a gift, offer again

the moments before consequence, like those summer
mornings when having dreamt you so long

it seemed I had not yet awakened when you came
to me in the room under the eaves. Afterwards

we’d sit on the porch looking out at the garden,
the apple tree just past blossoming, the grape

arbor where the cat slept. I knew
you were married, but good or bad wasn’t part of it,

not yet, maybe that’s what the man meant,
the time between where we belonged to nothing,

still innocent, no one bruised, nothing broken.
Not until late in the summer when you left her,

when you asked if I’d thought what it meant for us–
not until then the scrim of dirty edges

I didn’t want, unready, but when you thought
of returning I knew what I wanted. On August

nights like this one, the ballgame on low,
the dog asleep on the floor, I remember

how the light hung then, heavy, burnished,
the unpicked apples falling into gutters all over town.

-from Black Loam. Originally appeared in North American Review.