Three poems by Charlotte Pence
Loss and Attainment
The Trojans kept Helen for twelve years,
winning at least a little while.
So often we focus on the loss
rather than the years of attainment.
But any love that matters will one day
be taken for granted. Last night,
lying down to sleep next to you
on wrinkled sheets, warm where
the dog curled, cold by our feet,
I realized as your hand grazed my thigh
you hadn’t touched me all day.
Each morning when I wake I understand
you’re like an eagle scanning the next ridge.
The bed heaves as you rise first,
your steps hard, stiff, while the erupting
sky behind you eases from gravel gray
to blue. You don’t glance back
at the soft curve of my body,
not yet rigid with the day’s to-dos.
What you do is place cereal and fruit
in a bowl, then call my name.
The milk cold. The peach sliced.
Without motive or need
we sleep, eat, read, breathe together,
you running a hand under my shirt
whenever you want. But I was talking
about Helen, about how she loved
as she wished at least once, willing
to witness the loss of a world for it.
Leda, Leto, Echo….
Striped by porch-light, stretched
across our bed, his fattened
chest humps up like a boat
on a flat sea. Beating dead
center of his sternum, absence
of my hand, of my nails, raking.
I hesitate, stand over him
while outside our window
the wind and pecan tree
shuffle their skirts and hems:
gutter pings, roof pops, twigs crick
as nuts fall, unripe, yet rotten.
Europa, Eurynome, Mnemosyne….
To the gods above, I know
I pause within an arm’s touch
of this marriage and the night
with its broad demands.
What I ask: my own list
of names I invite to this bed.
Never have I chosen a man,
so preoccupied with
who pursued me. How many
wives stand naked, slivered
by the gray light of porches
this Saturday night,
pausing before we bend
a knee, climb up? Do they
wish for someone else as I do?
Yes, let the pecan tree’s shadow
writhe its narrow branches
all down the length of this bed.
Compel the wind to lick
where salt from want still lingers.
At Opry Mills Mall
People-watching outside The Gap,
Zeus and I smell the anxious
celebration of Saturday night:
food-court fries, freshly-showered
skins that hint of chlorine, musk aftershave.
We try to decide if I’m sad.
I tell him how most nights
I blink in the dark, worrying about
what I need to do. He says
I don’t understand what’s normal,
sadness only a perspective.
But then he tugs on that oversized
ear lobe of his, takes a breath,
and suggests maybe always wanting more
has finally hurt me. What does a wife do
when told an unpleasant truth?
I change the subject to his faults,
tell him he’s never had enough ambition.
He sighs, bums a dollar to buy
a big pretzel dusted with garlic.
We share it and lick our fingers
while we watch the sales clerk
call her boyfriend when she thinks
no one’s looking. She says, “I can’t wait
to get out of this god-forsaken place.”
“Loss and Attainment” was previously published in New Millennium Writings 2007-2008, issue17, under the title “Helen of Troy.”