When the dark night of the body gets black enough,
and I have had my fill of magazines,
catalogs, videos, warmed over Thai food
from styrofoam boxes left on the Sunday Times
to adorn the morning, I step up the street
to Whistler’s garden in the Rue du Bac,
where I condole with Mrs Rimmington
as she repugns the tourists at Lausanne,
while Mme d'Ombré is about to turn
from the frightful Mr Ince to interject,
at first with one of her sprightly grimaces
inflecting her unspoken note of relief,
how glad she was to come and find me here.
And so we all are here, happy enough,
or at least content to have come round to this
and find ourselves again just as we were,
though with a little wear along the edges,
to speak if only for myself—or so
it could have come to me to say, had not her eyes
darkened in the shade of her yellow hat
sliding across her brow as she glanced to find him
sparkling among the flames of the ailanthus,
then turned again and tore my breath away.
* * *
The raiment we wear when people come visiting
betrays a fondness for the unpredictable
others might find alarming. They sit in the parlor,
in the intimacy of shadows sparked by dustmotes
wandering through lilac-scents in ambivalent breezes,
and watch for our return from the business that called us
shortly after they came, when we scarcely knew
what errand brought them. In the garage unopened cans of paint
wait like stalwart citizens, gallon by gallon. The turns
the children make under the vast horse-chestnut tree
grow wider and odder as if to keep
this moment unenriched by savage candor
which more of us need to hear. Either the clock
on the mantel is too loud or scarcely audible,
or the newel-post on the landing has just come good and off,
sending Father to the hardware store
for epoxy and dowels. He wants to be right back, he said,
though he usually finds a reason to stay away.
Just as they discover it’s the wrong time to be here,
Aunt Rosellen stumbles in dressed as a ballerina
and tells them she is happy they have come.
The glare through the curtains festers like old desire.
A riot of redbuds blisters the afternoon.
We realize we have tasted this all before.
Heffernan lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He teaches poetry in the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Arkansas. New poems of his will appear this year in Shenandoah,
The Kenyon Review, and Hotel
He has a short short story in the current
issue of the online journal Octopus.
His fourth book, Love’s Answer,
won the Iowa Poetry Prize in 1993. He has
two books in Ireland with Salmon Poetry,
most recently Another Part of the Island (1999).
He has won three fellowship grants from
the National Endowment for the Arts.
His seventh collection of poems, The
Night Breeze Off the Ocean, is scheduled
for publication in 2005.