Kevin Cantwell

Rousseau Called Them Absent Beauties

New Orleans, 2002
for Jeff Vasseur

     It was one of those days of Lent, early enough so that the hour of want could still be not this one but the next, & all through the night, down the interstate, the broken rigs, the pipe & lumber trucks, thundered toward the Gulf. Splitting the cost of a convention hotel room, we were sleeping, having sat up late laughing at the celebrants of the Quarter, whose lit faces were equine with stupor.

     As for the young woman in the next room, we would remember how happy she had sounded, calling out from the darkness of our just-then waking. She sounded beautiful you said the next morning, her voice beside itself, espousing the secret that the body can die of happiness.


      Where can I find my rest? Only in the sun, in a chair of slats whose sodden feet are rooted to the grass by the blinking termites, as in this afternoon light, in its heat, a lit cigarette fallen to the grass, & thus, as is now the habit of my body–that night I lay sleepless: Did she open her eyes & close them? Did she–later–throw on a yellow shirt, patterned with woodbine & trumpet bloom, bits of glass embroidered?

     In that other life, where stands the mansion with a room for each desire, the two of us at a white iron table, would I have remembered to tell her, that forty years ago,
the winter rains of Santa Maria fell through the eucalyptus, & an unshaven neighbor, wordless in his distraction, passed me in those deep woods, a deer rifle cradled in one arm & two Great Horned owls marbled with blood, gripped by their feet in his yellow hand?