They thought the trouble was over,
they thought they had talked it all out,
it was a mistake, she’d said, this infatuation
for someone else which had turned suddenly
too serious, she could see that now.
But they thought there was nothing left of it,
their nerves had been rubbed so raw
through bouts of anger, shame, even love,
so many words had come and gone between them
that they couldn’t easily remember
what they’d said, what they’d imagined.
But it didn’t matter now,
they thought they had gotten over
something difficult, something which had felt
immovable, the long unbearable ache
which had become too much a habit,
and they were celebrating in their way,
having dinner at a new expensive place
where they had no history of being together,
where they expected nothing.
They were sipping wine, a deep rich red,
the waiter was hovering over them like a generous uncle
and they were selecting everything he had suggested—
how good to be in his hands for awhile!
Soon it was happening, the old ardor
was coming back, they were beginning to flirt
with one another, the way she said baby,
the way his shoulder was brushing hers,
the way they were allowing themselves to think
for the first time in a long time
of the good sex they might later have,
the after-talk which would be easy and low.
And maybe he hadn’t meant what he was about to say,
maybe when she remarked how she loved the leek soup
it was the wine in him, his jauntiness,
that made him ask what else she loved,
jokingly at first, whether she loved
the stuffed mushrooms on his plate, the braised beef,
or maybe she loved what others were having,
this one in the dark suit, or that one
with the coyly unbuttoned collar, or maybe
she loved the whole damn menu in fact,
he couldn’t help himself, the words came
pouring forth, spilling all over the table.
And it was not until late at night
when she’d finally gone to her room
and closed herself off from him in sleep
that he stopped talking and remembered only half
of what he’d said because he’d said too much,
created too much damage, crossed some boundary
he had avoided most of his life.
Maybe it was desert, maybe tundra, or the white
insinuating madness of the polar ice cap,
but wherever he was was strange and dangerous,
and somehow dazzling for all that,
and only in the morning would he know for better or worse
in which direction each of them would be walking it,
though never had he felt, as he had tonight,
so permissive with himself, so luxuriously
tactless, having said again and again
the words he thought he could never bear
to use, so suddenly commonplace,
so readily available to him now.