Five years of nothing. Then, one night she calls
and tells: she followed him, and “sure enough
he visited my so-called friend, Charise.”
I have my own failed marriage story. She’s heard.
But she’s not calling to commiserate.
This is Samantha, whose intelligence
was all bemusement, calm, but now some put-on
casual sing-song frays to show: obsession
narrowing every subject down to one.
“He leaned his head back, so Charise could lick
his neck, and his eyes were asking lower? lower?”
They were my friends because they let me shoot them.
That’s who I am. I have the kids on weekends
and then: just me, alone in the darkroom
hovering with the tongs at the stop bath.
Here, from the night we met: Neal sliding down
his shirt to flaunt his glistening shoulder blade.
“My family’s tartan crest. It barely hurt.”
Next morning they were leaving for the summer.
He said “tomorrow maybe we can make
oh, south Montana. Park on a side road.
No Comfort Inn when the bedroom is your car.”
I thought they were a younger, brasher us:
kids, leaving home to enter the whirlwind.
Her dissertation on Irigaray.
Her fellowship next fall. The way my wife
wanted to tell her all about the book
she left off writing when she had our son.
The bashful way she asked, could she just peek
into the crib? and here, this close-up here:
Samantha bends, and sways her braids to flash
her new one too. Peace sign, except the twist is
where they link to the circle, each bar hooks
like arrowing Kanji script, minutely back.
She wanted to remember that night, too.
And liked that she was in the show. But wanted
most to remember her dismay, and not
to feel the shock absorbed now, draining off
into her whole life story, but to feel
her whole life story draining off, uncovering
just: shock. “So there I was. So that was me.
The woman in the fucking rhododendrons.
The woman weeping at a windowsill.
Like: my actual tears on a windowsill.”
Maybe she has some other man by now.
She must have. People are made resilient.
Her voice that night returns, though. I remember:
she spoke the whole time of herself, but there were
pauses she left, like questions, or suspicions.
And that was why I told—about the woman
I met in other towns, at photo shows.
And, after shows, hotels. So commonplace
and so like nothing else, since to this woman
(who, with the same stung fervor, hates me now)
I was famous, I could do anything.
And told: two years, no giving up the lie.
And all fights ended with my now ex wife
promising: she was sorry, she would try.
No sign of disappointment from Samantha.
No surprise. Except the pause she left
grows longer here: is more a “Really? Hunh.”
Even returning to describe her own
humiliations all over again
she (how to put this?) spaces her sentences
so there arrives a right out in the open
feeling of being people who need nothing
from each other but the needing nothing.
You have to understand. I became
one of the ones who “lives in the present.”
It’s not some guided meditation. Try
fatal and filled with idiot error. Try
shadows finding each other by fires in the parks.
And always, back of my mind—I could be shooting
joggers, or cubicles at Northrup Grumman:
some place where time comes round again. Or else
seems never to have gone in the first place.
Or else, time’s going, but the place stands still.
For me, the mountain road, where we come from.
Blood Brook descends, and crosses side to side
through culvert pipes. Drive high enough, and trails
climb from the pulloffs to a fire tower.
Big scissoring pine boughs. Car window smudges.
And in this dream that is no dream, before
her being “wife” or “mom” or “mine,” she’s there.
Her single, fierce, free presence in the mist
her outline made of tremoring sunlight:
this trusted thing our imaginations shared
that I made—just lost, just never there—is there.
Then less Romantic. More trained, automatic
moves in the amber glow of a safelight.
More reek of the fixative. I’m me. I’m standing
in my darkroom and watching a timer while the children
sleep, and the semis on the interstate
breathe their distant, long, metallic breath.
And beneath the little cell-phone grille
(like lines of poems that go on reading themselves
back to themselves, even when no one’s reading)
Samantha keeps talking into eternity:
“He wore the same face he would wear with me.
I knew that face. ‘I love this, please don’t stop’
that looks like ‘stop, no, you’re too close to me.’
I must have worn that face before. You must have. You know:
‘Devour me’ and ‘Yes, I’ll devour you.’”
Peter Campion is the author of three collections of poems, Other People, The Lions, and El Dorado, all from the University of Chicago Press. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Minnesota.