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Cold Day in August

Elisabeth Harvor
From:   The Long Cold Green Evenings of Spring. Vehicule Press, 1997

In the sun-pen
our father built for her
so she can start in on her tan
while there's still snow
on the ground, she's
flat on her back up on the
slant of roof that looks down
into the snowed-in
back garden.

It's still only March,
but already hot, the roof's
asphalt shingles smell of tar
and burn through her back,
she must feel it, that painfully
coarse industrial sugar,
while high up in the woods
the farmers are making their way
down our ice-aisle between pine trees,
fragrance of torn tree-skin,
strapped leather

down the steep
lumber road from the bluff,
their jingling horses

dragging the final chained logs
along the pegged ache of the winter.

These men must get a nearly
aerial view of her, our little mother,

tiny naked penned woman
turning pink to the

jostling and high sexless
chime of the bells' little jingles....

          *    *     *

But was she a tease? Afraid of sex?
Pretty woman who shone and shone

until there were no
scraps of leftover light
for her two daughters?

Who now sit, locked in a car
on the ferry sailing out to the Point,

all around us the bay's
broken bracelet of islands,

their steep walls
of trees

knitted into
a sketched darkness
by someone who must have
kept whispering, You will
learn nothing here, there isn't
even the relief of a meadow--

only the monotony
of island,

crowded spruces
and cedars,

only grey water lapping

at eroded tablets
of rock, shored up by grey
pebbles and the wetter

smaller pebbles at the ledge
of blacker, deeper water

while we, now mothers ourselves,
pull all the bad old words
("narcissistic," "hostile")

out of the family hat,
the tea in our thermos
tasting of tar and old smoke.

But how sad and thrilling
these little talks are!

Sad and thrilling
and almost erotic, I can
feel the sex of them, two inches
down the inside of each thigh,
the fine wince of the personal,

all this is in August,
cold day in August,

rain coming at us
over the darkening water.

Before we reach the far shore
it hits our windshield

in an aimed scatter,

but as we turn,

all the while
treading water

while heavily shedding it,

the storm comes
at us from behind,

attacks us full-force
on the car's long-eyed back window—

Even so, it's still
the comforting
and privately

assault of the rain,

its little winter

Elisabeth Harvor's works copyright © to the author.

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