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A Boys' Own, With Queen

John Barton

up the valley the locals call you the lads, never ask after kids and wives
when you pull in for milk or gas at the general store near the crossroads

driving from the city most weekends from early April on, for three years
arriving in the summer before heat condenses in a sweat over weary farms

your new truck flush with fauteuils scavenged from backroad dumps
and alleys from Renfrew to Osgoode, which you plan to recover in lush

reproduction chintz, a scarred chaise longue crammed among bedding
plants and stucco—the rococo touches have got the township talking

the schoolhouse abandoned for thirty years after the province rethought
how it wanted its children taught—and where—no longer in century-old

dowagers like this, presided over, until long past its prime, by normal
school alumnae who became engaged, letting it collapse among playground

lilacs and broken swings until you took it off the church’s hands, both of you
braced for transformation, no matter how many repairs itemized from roof

to cellar were unexpected, the brick and stone repointed, new cedar shake
fixed in place for decades of weathering to a tranquil grey that’s still

ahead of you, along with the septic field to be dug next year, running
water at last and power (locals watching from afar) the privacy you claim

for each other expansive within all this space, the one-room school squared
by communion rails into quadrants for cuisine and sleep while you joke v
two men your age don’t want a family room, just a library for your merged
first editions, papers slowly assembled about the building still unordered

into a perspective as to where you fit, but fit you will, within rural histories
that would have chosen once to write you out—meanwhile you are last seen

hanging Pope Leo XIII, lately repatriated in full regalia from among the clutter
inside a shop of deconsecrated church antiquities back in town; a blank space

a light rectangle ghosted on the sooty plaster, awaits him above the black
board to the left of the shy early likeness of a queen whose uncomprehending

eyes look down upon you, not because she does not realize who you are
but because in this portrait she is not yet a widow and still feels young

John Barton's works copyright © to the author.

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