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Plain Talk

by Claudia Rankine

The sky kneels close to the earth
like a voice becoming intimate
and turns him restless in their bed. This is why
he finds her awake, framed by the doorway,
ironing at midnight. Following
the iron forward, back, forward, he watches,
hopeful-tomorrow what was familiar will be familiar
again-though tears open into the blue fabric.
At their wedding she wore white;
the dress cascaded, its lace hem like leaves
against the floorboards. He remembers
holding her profile up to the future-her face,
the same rich brown of mackerel beside his
like a promise settling as earth upon earth
in the unlit hills of marriage.
Now he feels like a man evolved
from the unnatural landscape of a dream.
He knows it is not that she doesn't, she does
seek within herself the path out, tries hard
to trim back their vows to this,
the only possible life.
Shaking the shirt out, she frees the heat
against her body as if heat
could comfort on the worst of nights.
And hers is only one kind of existence:
tightening the belt around his robe,
sucking gently his lower lip,
he gathers himself close before turning
back to bed, trusting the ruby-throated morning
to provide her passageway.
For it's only her dreams that taunt her,
widening her eyes in darkness, blending
the untroubled night with her restless sorrow.
And how could he, forgiving her lack of ease,
collect her from her indigenous darkness
and lead her again to the resting world?
With what words could he summon her?
There is so little urgency in plain talk,
how could he simply say, Sweetheart,
don't. Not to yourself. Not to me.

Claudia Rankine was born in Kingston, Jamacia, in 1963 and raised in New York City, where she now lives. She graduated from Williams College and the Columbia MFA program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, River Styx, and The Southern Review. (1993)

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