If Briefly

By Allen Edwin Butt
Sometimes in time’s near
unassailable sangfroid there is
a thawing
& the memory
asserts its musicality again

reminds one that it is at heart
heart’s artificer

                    *     *     *

Somewhere in Okinawa there are stairs

“My husband is the only
constant in”

are concrete stairs that lead one
(or at least led me, age six)
near straight from top to bottom of a cliff face
& they ended in a black-sand beach

                      “the only
constant in my life.

When I was young I would have thought

I would regret it, to have wrapped
myself up like a caterpillar
in a man—but if my name, like his,
is Vogelsang, then I must half recede
with him
& only half of me is Julia. And that fades too.

So call me, if
you call me, Mrs. Vogelsang.”

At that age, having lived before in Florida,
it seemed like
                      a miraculous affront
                                     that a beach
could shuffle off the purity of sand

& satisfying to have seen it after the descent
of stairs

at least three hundred, each laborious
at six
my body hardly large enough to bear
its density in time—

Knowing little, still I felt
exhilaration that a new piece of world
would stand (if briefly) out of time

& therefore out of me
if I am what I occupy of it

. . . The body hates to be discounted
in this way, says it encloses
any love the heart pretends to,
like the stairs,
a downward tedium but still the necessary
setting of the beach, as gems
are set in rings that,

though of precious metals, lack
the brilliance of the gems
& go unnoticed, though they lift
the whole from what it risks—

                    *     *     *

          “At the onset of my husband’s
impotence I thought myself in part
if not entirely
responsible, & I ascribed the blame

to our, admittedly, unsensational sex habits,
to our bed not cold, perhaps, but let’s be frank

a little bored with us. Therefore,

thirty-eight & only just confronted with
my inexperience that bordered on

extended childhood, I contemplated, then resolved
to take his penis in my mouth.

It was not lightly I decided this. I am,

perhaps, anachronistic—though no prude,
my husband & I, if you will excuse
vulgarity, fucked constantly when young
& not infrequently until this roadblock—but

it struck me somehow as
unseemly hitherto. My husband

when I told him what I meant to do
looked pleased, as though
decorum only kept him

twenty years long
from requesting it. He tried
to guide me
as I started, both his hands
like tethers not unkind to what they hold—

And he was kind to me, spoke kindly as I ran
my tongue across him, tasting faintly
of his sweat but not unpleasant. On the whole

not bad to do this, though
my faith flagged somewhat

as his prick lay flaccid in my mouth,

its stubbornness
infuriating. I could feel his disappointment,

selfish maybe but no more so
than is fair in love, for he, of course,
was not a stranger to this act.

No sense in skipping what embarrasses:
I knew at least once

in the time since our marriage he
had been with someone else, though

it had been a while by now.
She had told me, long my friend

& full of guilt. I told her
bitterness was foreign to me
(which is almost true)

that she shouldn’t
worry, though I’d rather that she not
encourage him to seek a second

tryst. Not much by then
that I could do to change what they
had done—& I believed

at that time, as I said, I was
responsible, could mend it
so he’d never feel the need
to cheat again. Can’t know now

whether I was right, though sometimes
I consider asking him—as I considered

then, but as I built my courage up
he stiffened.

And I threw
my heart into the act, as one

who plows the earth with spite for it,
his anger lightening his labor, that

the ground break open for
his putting in the seed. I will not
lie fallow always though

my body rot.

                  —the thick
warmth running in my mouth like
bitter salt dissolved in water,

like the ocean beautiful
though full of bloated fish.”

                    *     *     *

Looking at the ocean, it
does not at first cohere     the waves

seem merely limits that the eyes have introduced, imposed
to force a pattern
on enormity
                 which one

does not encounter often made particular

& we are in it
where we cautiously avoid the undertow

Time made us, time

will make us till we tire of it absolutely
what we are . . . & still so thin the slightest

puncture tears this curtain
of a body off me     Then I am
as one who, secretly
a part, participant, of it

pretends to volunteer to vanish at
a state-fair magic show that claims a
charm in its predictability

                    *     *     *

             “My love
consoles me greatly
but is love no less for that

because it is an undertaking

not myself but with a bit of me
in it.”

                    *     *     *

What I can see beyond
my eyes is my invention
half as much
as it is real, if real

means anything apart from
subject to invention. Though
as makers we might

deign to praise this
still one must admit it grows
at times exhausting
to remake the world in
every sighting of it.

I suspect you know
as well as I do
that desire we might feel
sometime subjected to another’s

presence is a sort
of longing to experience the object—
And sometimes we

experience it, sometimes
that experience
is burdensome. Then we hash
the matter over, celebrate

the isolation
one cannot alleviate through
laughter, set the problem
to the side. Friendship,

unlike love, will not destroy us
therefore is not penance. But
what eases hurting also serves
& can we rightly blame

the sun for what evaporates
between the intervals of rain?

                    *     *     *

“And if my love is only my invention
that is unimportant
since to say I love him
therefore makes it so.

To be content is to be so
by choice—my friend,
when she had told me that he came
inside her crying

choked with guilt & pleasure
which we all know will intoxicate when mixed,

was simply unaware that happiness
is mine by right if I declare it,
like the moon with our absurd flag.”

                    *     *     *

In Okinawa also
—I cannot remember
where this lies in time, before
the black-sand beach
or after—I awoke

at two o’clock one morning, sick,
unable to return to sleep,

never having woken up so early,
having never understood that two o’clock

is full dark stretched
like gauze across one corner of
the earth. My father took me
somewhere with him, maybe

there was someone he had told he’d meet
& likely told me, but my memory has found
no use for it—we stood outside the car

under streetlights in a parking lot
near home, & while he spoke
with some man wholly wiped

from time I’ve known, I watched
a dozen dragonflies fly circles
underneath the streetlight,
& I knew the time of day in which I stood
was new & tried to watch the dragonflies

with desperate attention,
knowing two o’clock was something that
existed now with being’s stony smirk.

One doesn’t see
these things again.

Source: Poetry (June 2010).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2010
 Allen Edwin Butt

Biography

Allen Edwin Butt is a student at Presbyterian College and an alumnus of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. His work has appeared in Poetry and Meridian.

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Poems by Allen Edwin Butt

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Nature, The Body, Infatuation & Crushes

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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