What Became

What became of the dear
strands of hair pressed
against the perspiration
of your lover's brow
after lovemaking as you gazed
into the world of those eyes,
now only yours?

What became of any afternoon
that was so vivid you forgot
the present was up to its old
trick of pretending
it would be there

What became of the one
who believed so deeply
in this moment he memorized
everything in it and left
it for you?


            *          *          *         


Once, when cigarettes meant pleasure
instead of death, before Bogart
got lung cancer and Bacall's
voice, called "smoky," fell

into the gravel of a lower octave,
people went to the movies just
to watch the two of them smoke.
Life was nothing but a job,

Bogart's face told us, expressionless
except for the recurrent grimace,
then it lit up with the fire
he held in his hand and breathed

into himself with pure enjoyment
until each word he spoke afterward
had its own tail of smoke.
When he offered a cigarette

to Bacall, she looked right at him,
took it into her elegant mouth
and inhaled while its smoke curled
and tangled with his. After the show,

Just to let their hearts race and taste
what they'd seen for themselves,
the audiences felt in purses,
shirt pockets, and even inside

the sleeves of T-shirts, where packs
of cigarettes were folded, by a method
now largely forgotten. "Got a light?"
somebody would say, "Could I bum

one of yours?" never thinking
that two of the questions most
asked by Americans everywhere
would undo themselves and disappear

like the smoke that rose
between their upturned fingers,
unwanted in a new nation
of smoke-free movie theaters

malls and restaurants, where politicians
in every state take moral positions
against cigarettes so they can tax them
for their favorite projects. Just fifty years

after Bogart and Bacall, smoking
is mostly left in the hands of waitresses
huddled outside fancy inns, or old
clerks on the night shift in mini-marts,

or hard-hats from the road crew
on a coffee-break around the battered
tailgate of a sand truck—all paying
on installment with every drag

for bridges and schools. Yet who else
but these, who understand tomorrow
is only more debt, and know
better than Bogart that life is work,

should be trusted with this pleasure
of the tingling breath they take today,
these cigarettes they bum and fondle,
calling them affectionate names

like "weeds" and "cancer sticks," holding
smoke and fire between their fingers
more casually than Humphrey Bogart
and blowing it into death's eye.


            *          *          *




If some afternoon you

should pass by there,

and the woman comes out swooping

her blue bathrobe back

from her path and crying, “Baby, oh my

sweet baby,” it won’t be you

she means, nor you

the hubby wearing motorcycles

on his T-shirt and jumping

down from the stairless

sliding glass door

says he wants to kill, so just

stand still. It’s the dog

they’ll be after, the shadow

under the not-quite sunk pink

Chevy, ratcheting itself up

with a slow, almost inaudible

growl into the biggest, ugliest


cross West Central Maine

has ever seen. It won’t matter

if the two shirtless fat kids

come from around back with

hubcaps on their heads and shout

even louder than their father does,

“Queenie!” By then Queenie,

less a queen than a chain-

saw lunging at the potential

cordwood of your legs,

won’t know or care what

humans have named her. There’ll be

no hope for you, Pal, unless,

that is, the teenage daughter,

who comes across the front lawn’s

dandelions in her tank top

every so often to set me free,

releases you, too – shaking her head

as if only you and she

could see how impossible

her stupid parents and this uncool

dog really are, and lifting it,

like that, by the collar

to create a bug-eyed

sausage that gasps

so loud her mother gasps – not

that the daughter will care. “Mother,”

she’ll say, eyeing the sorry choice

of afternoon attire, “you should see

how you look.” Then, flicking

Dad out of the way

and renaming the creature

she’s created “Peckerwood,”

she’ll march as if she

herself were now queen

back through that kingdom

of California raisins and tires

and Christmas lights decking the front

porch in July, and past the screen door

with the sign saying This

Is Not A Door, to disappear,

rump by rump with a bump

and a grind to you,

through the real screen door.

            *          *          *         


On the soap opera the doctor

explains to the young woman with cancer

that each day is beautiful.

Hair lifts from their heads

like clouds, like something to eat.

It is the hair of the married couple

getting in touch with their real feelings for the first

time on the talk show,

the hair of young people on the beach

drinking Cokes and falling in love.

And the man who took the laxative and waters his garden

next day with the hose wears the hair

so dark and wavy even his grandchildren are amazed,

and the woman who never dreamed tampons

could be so convenient wears it.

For the hair is changing people’s lives.

It is growing like wheat above the faces

of game show contestants opening the doors

of new convertibles, of prominent businessmen opening

their hearts to Christ, and it is growing

straight back from the foreheads of vitamin experts,

detergent and dog food experts

helping ordinary housewives discover

how to be healthier, get clothes cleaner

and serve dogs meals they love in the hair.

And over and over on television the housewives,

and the news teams bringing all the news faster

and faster, and the new breed of cops winning the fight

against crime are smiling, pleased to be at their best

proud to be among the literally millions of Americans

everywhere who have tried the hair, compared the hair

and will never go back to life before the active,

the caring, the successful, the incredible hair.

            *          *          *          *          *          *         


Why, Dot asks, stuck in the back

seat of her sister’s two-door, her freckled hand

feeling the roof for the right spot

to pull her wide self up onto her left,

the unarthritic, ankle – why

does her sister, coaching outside on her cane,

have to make her laugh so, she flops

back just as she was, though now

looking wistfully out through the restaurant

reflected in her back window, she seems bigger,

and couldn’t possibly mean we should go

ahead in without her, she’ll be all right, and so

when you finally place the pillow behind her back

and lift her right out into the sunshine,

all four of us are happy, none more

than she, who straightens the blossoms

on her blouse, says how nice it is to get out

once in awhile, and then goes in to eat

with the greatest delicacy (oh

I could never finish all that) and aplomb

the complete roast beef dinner with apple crisp

and ice cream, just a small scoop.

            *          *          *          *


It nods

behind me

as I speak

at the meeting.

All night

while I sleep

it stares

into the dark.

The bald spot

is bored.

Tired of waiting

in the office,

sick of following me

into sex.

It traces

and retraces



the shape

of worlds

beyond its world.

Far away

it hears the laughter

of my colleagues,

the swift sure

sound of my voice.

The bald spot

says nothing.

It peers

out from hair

like the face

of a doomed man

going blanker

and blanker,

walking backwards

into my life.