Rita Moe: Two Poems
How to Swim | What He Missed
How to Swim
Nate Gould springs from the gray, grabbing house,
vaults the viney gate, leaps the two steps
to the sidewalk. Out here he has the say-so.
And if kids his own age ignore him, he'll make do
with younger boys. Not just make do; make them do.
He knows the bus stop best for cigarette butts,
how to lift naked women from the blind newsman,
how to sneak into the Vogue Theater. The things
he doesn't know are legion: how to be taken care of,
how to be small, the sound of his name sung by his mother
at suppertime. Or how to swim. And this ignorance
he clings to. It is the one concrete directive his mother
has given him; a fasting he does in remembrance
of his father and brother; a rule he can quote,
chapter and verse, to the other boys. Her other commands
are unspoken: take care of me, save me, make me whole.
What He Missed
He said he was addicted to alcohol. Also to food, shopping
and women. Said he belonged to AA now. And to Weight
Watchers and Shoppers Anonymous. He was divorced
and remarried. He was eating a salad. He sat in our living
room in front of the painting of the nude woman in the blue
glade, his head framed by herons. He was healthier now,
he said. But his art had changed. He missed those long days
and nights without demarcation he had spent in his studio. Bright
lights, loud music, alcohol. He remembered standing at the top
of a ladder working on his self-portrait. Piece by piece
he'd had x-rays taken of each part of his body and assembled
them on canvas. His bones walking, arms spread wide, the delicate
joining of the vertebrae, darkness of the dense skull. Spilling
from his skeletal fingers he added personal belongings:
his eyeglasses, coins, pen, keys, a shoe.
He had finished
his salad and asked for coffee. Behind him, the woman stood ankle
deep in water, violet chrysanthemums in the foreground. She
stood beneath a blue canopy of stone and foliage staring enraptured
at a gold sky. Staring, one might believe, into the burning light
of creation. He smiled at his wife. Said he was sober now, glad
to be sober. Doing mostly commercial art, ads for Sanka
and Burger King. But, he said, it's very hard. He shifted
in his chair, his figure blocking the torso of the nude woman.
The thing is, he said, sipping his coffee, I was God.
Rita Moe's poetry has been published in Water~Stone, Poet Lore, ArtWord Quarterly, North Stone Review, Diagram and other literary journals. She has been selected to participate in the 2003-2004 Loft Mentor Program for Poetry and Creative Prose. She works full-time for an investment firm and lives with her husband, who tends a northern garden.