Vandergast and the Girl

By Louis Simpson 1923–2012 Louis Simpson
Vandergast to his neighbors—
the grinding of a garage door
and hiss of gravel in the driveway.

He worked for the insurance company   
whose talisman is a phoenix
rising in flames ... non omnis moriar.
From his desk he had a view of the street—

translucent raincoats, and umbrellas,   
fluorescent plate-glass windows.   
A girl knelt down, arranging
underwear on a female dummy—

sea waves and, on the gale,   
Venus, these busy days,
poised in her garter belt and stockings.

         *

The next day he saw her eating
in the restaurant where he usually ate.

Soon they were having lunch together   
elsewhere.
                She came from Dallas.
This was only a start, she was ambitious,   
twenty-five and still unmarried.
Green eyes with silver spiricles ...
red hair ...
                  When he held the car door open   
her legs were smooth and slender.

“I was wondering,”
she said, “when you'd get round to it,”   
and laughed.

         *

Vandergast says he never intended   
having an affair.
                           And was that what this was?   
The names that people give to things ...
What do definitions and divorce-court proceedings   
have to do with the breathless reality?

O little lamp at the bedside
with views of Venice and the Bay of Naples,   
you understood! Lactona toothbrush
and suitcase bought in a hurry,
you were the witnesses of the love
we made in bed together.

Schrafft's Chocolate Cherries, surely you remember   
when she said she'd be true forever,

and, watching “Dark Storm,” we decided   
there is something to be said, after all,
for soap opera, “if it makes people happy.”

         *

The Vandergasts are having some trouble   
finding a buyer for their house.

When I go for a walk with Tippy   
I pass the unweeded tennis court,
the empty garage, windows heavily shuttered.

Mrs. Vandergast took the children   
and went back to her family.

And Vandergast moved to New Jersey,   
where he works for an insurance company   
whose emblem is the Rock of Gibraltar—
the rest of his life laid out
with the child-support and alimony payments.

As for the girl, she vanished.

Was it worth it? Ask Vandergast.
You'd have to be Vandergast, looking through his eyes   
at the house across the street, in Orange, New Jersey.   
Maybe on wet days umbrellas and raincoats
set his heart thudding.
                                  Maybe
he talks to his pillow, and it whispers,   
moving red hair.

In any case, he will soon be forty.

Louis Simpson, “Vandergast and the Girl” from The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001. Copyright © 2003 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: Collected Poems (BOA Editions Ltd., 1988)

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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