Day and Night in Virginia and Boston

After three months, Virginia is still a frontier.
Late at night, I close the door
on my husband practicing Mozart, the dishpan fills
and the network affiliates sign off one by one.
Now the country stations, tuning up like crickets
on radios in scattered valley kitchens:
Har yall this evenin folks!
(Wanting to say ‘I’m real fine’ I whisper ‘Wow.’)
Got your Green Hill chicory perkin’? An army
of women, straightened and ironed and blued
like Picasso’s ironer—jerking coffeecups
back with one gesture, hips pressed to sinks.
Their suspendered husbands are reading—the paper? the Bible?
And it’s Jesus for you and for me, till midnight—the anthem—
and one soaped hand jerks out, and their lighted lives recede
to kitchens on the moon’s dark side, Mozart rising . . .
Daytimes, in post office, gas station, greasy spoon,
I don’t see them anywhere, it makes me nervous.
Black faces down here look “colored.”
I am afraid of the other, red faces.

Take my first job in Boston,
the outgoing typist said, ‘You’ve got
to know the foms, we use so many foms.’
And I said O why farms?
I thought law firms had torts.
A tort, I thought, was like vous avez tort.
But I was wrong about the farms,
and after the Cardinal’s Vietnam speech
one of the girls said, ‘Think you’re smat with that accent?’

Still, nothing soothes me, sometimes,
like American voices, softened with distance,
with nearness, as murmurs in a darkened Greyhound:
‘It sure has been a scorcher.’ ‘Where you folks from?’
I keep yawning, lightworlds off in the dark . . .
Sometimes my lonesome standard English sleeps:
The varied and ample land, the North and South in the light,
and the voices of Earth and Moon swell in my helmet
with prairie inflections, soft twangs of outer speech—
‘You’re looking real good,’ says Earth
‘—ain’t that somethin’?’
‘Roger. No sweat. Out.’

Anne Winters, “Day and Night in Virginia and Boston” from The Key to the City (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Anne Winters. Used by permission of the author.
Source: The Key to the City (The University of Chicago Press, 1986)
More Poems by Anne Winters