With soft brown eyes, auburn hair
braided to his waist,
the classical guitarist smiles from the stage,
his nimble fingers plucking taut strings.
I imagine he is beaming at me,
sending that I-see-you–invitation my way,
the one that says, Meet me after the performance,
let me play a special song for you.
Without warning, I am fourteen again
on the deck of a fishing boat with my parents.
Squared sailor hat on my head, braces on my teeth,
I grin at the handsome first mate,
curly blond-haired siren with clear blue eyes.
One kind comment from him and the fantasy begins—
maybe he will ask me out, maybe a dance
or a kiss out on the bow of the boat.
Fourteen or sixty-four, it takes one smile
for pimples or braces, wrinkles or bifocals
to disappear and fancy to come alive.
In an instant, I am Rapunzel
waiting to let down my hair.
I am Cinderella sliding my slender foot
into the crystal slipper.
She knew the moment she met him
that she would want to show him off,
carry his picture in her wallet
like a young bride, sticking it
under every strangers’ nose.
Look, she’d be saying
with her eyes, see who loves me?
A real man’s man, old George would add,
Strong, broad shoulders, muscles that bulged
when he stacked wood,
gristled carpenter hands that veined
when he swung a hammer,
wide arms that offered protection in every hug
and wry, dry humor that promised tomorrows.
She didn’t know then about his other love,
the one who secretly demanded all his time,
occupied every waking moment,
often rendered him unconscious.
She tried sharing him with her,
tried forgiving human frailty
and her own fears of letting go,
tried ignoring garbled words and strong hands
lying listless on the couch.
She lived with bottles hidden in drawers,
his head occasionally bobbing over his dish,
cigarette burns in the kitchen linoleum.
Watching his strength dwindle,
labored breathing taking its toll,
she sobbed when she found him lying near the bed,
glass mistress by his side.
The wallet-sized photo, yellowed with the years,
rarely leaves her purse now,
but daily she whispers his name.
Look, she is quietly saying with her eyes,
see who once loved me?
When Old Dog
The Brittany does not remember she is old,
forgets that stiff bones catch on each other
when she tries to rise, does not recall
how soft memory foam feels
under her form and how, for hours, deaf ears
enfold her in deep sleep, undisturbed by sound.
When the back door stands ajar,
scents beckoning, she knows only
the lure of the woods. Anticipating adventure,
she bolts like a pup to the open gate.
Red coat flashing, collar-bell clanging,
she runs down leaf-lined paths,
leaps over downed logs and fallen branches.
She does not remember how
she sometimes belly-flops down porch stairs
or how her tail sheepishly sneaks between her legs
when bigger dogs challenge;
forgets that eating sharp grasses now gag
her half-paralyzed throat and that racing
leaves her wheezing.
She does not worry about aches she’ll feel tomorrow.
Like a curious child, she does not question
the limits of her body, does not fathom
that fine line between holding back and letting go.
Despite milky lenses, fatty bulges and bony legs,
she opens to the mystery of the forest
like a toddler tasting freedom
for the first time.