Cooper Smith worries a sore inside his mouth, watching Yvonne
flip into a turn at the deep end where the boards are.
Into her mile, she sprawls under the pale for six, seven meters,
then ruptures it, a fierce butterfly.
God, she can swim. This,
Easter weekend. They are
alone inside the natatorium of the college where Cooper lectures.
Outside, the deserted campus is delirious.
Dogwood ignites the blue sky.
But this building was built before the war; it is dim, and the
air smells like onions seized up from root dirt.
Cooper has hidden himself behind the aluminum bleachers that are
piled against a long, windowless wall.
From where he crouches, he can hear the squelched slaps of his
wife's rhythm on the water. She whales into another flip, stretches against the pool
floor with amazing grace. Yvonne's
hands, far in front of the glint cast from her green goggles, are laced
together as if in prayer.
He was writing a death notice when they met.
1981. The year Cooper dropped out, got his nose broken, and took a
job writing obituaries at the Democrat in Little Rock.
He made five dollars an
hour typing formal obits, phoned in from homes around the state.
People died everywhere. He
fielded calls from Texas, Louisiana, Idaho, Tanzania announcing the
departed who had roots in Arkansas but had passed on strange soil.
Late in the afternoon, when people had manners enough to quit
dying, Cooper handled Washington press releases.
Yvonne was a congressional aide for an Arkansas man named
Mayfield that year. She called the Democrat that day to dictate a press
release from the Capitol Hill office.
The switchboard operator put the call through to Cooper's desk.
"Yvonne for Mayfield."
People lived their whole lives, died all day, got killed in car
wrecks, were Rotary members, Masons, Lutherans, carpenter's wives, truck
drivers, preceded in death, sisters, brothers, husbands.
"Yvonne Mayfield? Who?"
"To whom am I speaking?"
"Cooper," Cooper said.
"I'm in obits." He
could hear background office noises: a phone ringing off the wall,
"I don't know you.”
read from the top of the pile. "James
Daniel Turner died Sunday. He
was a Baptist." His
shift was from two in the afternoon until ten at night.
Holidays were hell. Suicidal.
"Turner, 24, of Lonoke, was a graduate of Ouachita Baptist
University in Arkadelphia. You
want some more? I do press
said, "Hold." And then he heard her, dictating a story about how Mayfield's
constituency in Hope, Arkansas had loaded two Volkswagen-sized
watermelons onto a flatbed truck and had them hauled up to the front
steps of the Capitol. Congress
was issued knives, carved them up right there and ate every bite down to
with HOPE MELONS printed in big pink letters across the chest were
issued. Everyone wore them,
chomping seed, chewing. Cooper
pictured it, sweet juice going sticky in the afternoon sun, hot August,
fragrant sun on summered legs, skin, light. He was lonely, terribly so.
what Congressman Mayfield said. My
boss. Your elected rep.
Are you listening? Guess?"
of habit, Cooper had typed everything Yvonne had told him into the form
of an obituary—here was a structure, order-logic,
hierarchy. He looked
at what he'd written.
melons. He pointed at my
tits. He referred to my
breasts as melons. What's
with you people down there?"
said, "I already did. Write
me a letter, Smith. We'll
correspond. I know you're a maniac.
Are you a maniac?"
said, "I'd like that."
like that. Out of a zillion
days, one moment always rockets toward you when fire flies.
years; they wrote each other letters for five years.
holds a finger to his throat, times his wife by heartbeat; she is forty
from one end to the other. He's
no match for her in the water. Yvonne
swam for the University of Maryland and just missed the Olympics in '80.
She holds state records in South Carolina, has had her name in Sports Illustrated. Inside the locked baby
room at home—she has made it into a shrine for lost things—three
scrapbooks are filled with medals, ribbons, certificates of honor. One, dedicated to the trials, has a flattened paper bag taped
to a page; inside, fine blonde hairs curl.
"Guess where this came from?" is magic markered
on the page margin where the deep blue letters have slightly smeared.
Cooper put a pinch of his wife's pubic hair—delicate as
newborn's—into the family Bible for good luck.
Yvonne is nearly six-feet tall, and it's hard to tell her sex
from here. She could be
anyone. Her weight buoys
her, allows her speed. In
his head, Cooper practices what he has come to do and is bewildered by
this ritual that he is not part of.
He sees her as pure passion, imaginative grief in the black
one-piece, goggle-eyed, as he crouches, stripped to his underwear,
behind the aluminum bleachers. He
takes one last bolt of the damp air as Yvonne breaks into a hard
freestyle, swimming straight in the middle lane.
Cooper crawls out on his hands and knees—like an animal, he
thinks—to the ledge where five-feet
is chiseled into cement. Without sound, he lowers himself into the lukewarm water and
sinks down so that his nose is just above the surface.
His urine is warm. It rises in fingers against his chest as he waits for the one
he has loved to swim back through the shallows.
In how many mirrors have you taken that picture, my
angel disguised as your accomplice?
Who has given you the explanation of my failings?
Are you borrowing my blood for a lie or a prayer?
This, what Yvonne had written after the jobless year, her
panhandling spring, her downtime, the year when things fell down
and each letter held some reference to the holes in her life.
By 1983, Cooper had quit his newspaper job and moved to
Fayetteville, where he tried to finish the degree he'd lied about having
in a résumé. He was
living with a forty-year-old woman who'd advertised room and board in
exchange for work, but what he mostly did was drink whiskey with her and
hear the endless story of how she'd had oral sex with the Episcopal
priest before holy communion, how her husband had gotten himself killed
on the road, how sleeping with her sixteen-year-old son was no longer
possible because he'd started getting erections.
She watched him rake out her gravel drive, stack hay head high in
the loft, polish the panel walls, the banister on the stairs all the way
to her bedroom. Vague
references brought immediate responses from Yvonne.
People from Arkansas lived in places named Smackover, for God's
sake. Yvonne prodded,
sometimes writing whole passages in the bumpkin dialect she'd picked up
from Mayfield's home people on the Hill.
For his part, Cooper drafted and redrafted each letter, longhand
cursive on rag paper. He
sent Yvonne lyric poems, and even wrote a story about what would happen
when they met. The
narrative prophesied a wedding in a temple, how the small beads on
Yvonne's white dress would look as light filtered through stained glass,
how she would laugh at the instant when he said "I do."
Here is what I want you to do tonight instead of screwing your
keeper, Yvonne wrote on the onion-skin page of a letter she claimed
to have panhandled stamps for. She
had enclosed a charcoal nude of herself—the only likeness he ever knew
of her until the day they met—along with a marijuana cigarette.
I want you to put on your best suit of clothes, comb your hair
straight down and perfume yourself with your best cologne.
Turn the lights out and pull down the stained shades. Shut the doors. Lock
them inside out. Tape me to
your headboard and burn a candle close enough for the light to flicker,
to jump across my contours, my roughness.
Light the joint, smoke until your head swims.
Let me come alive for you. Touch
my paper heart, harder, smear me with two fingers down to there, see how
I take you, how your fingers print me.
Strip, slowly, one garment at a time as you must for a lover.
See how I look you in the eye and shiver. Shut your eyes and feel my kiss on your lips, my tongue in
your mouth, in the hole where you miss a tooth.
Feel me cup the small of your back and listen to how my breath
quickens, then stops. Blow
the candle out, cover yourself with the thin sheet, see us love.
Rock with me. Remember.
Who to say no?
From this level, Cooper can hear the sharp exhale and
inhale she makes on every third stroke, see that his great-grandmother's
wedding band is missing from her left hand.
Yvonne wears no bathing cap.
Her blonde hair is darkened by water and slicked back over the
crown of her head, so that it looks even shorter.
Cooper holds a breath. He
has the sensation of being half-in and half-out of himself.
Yvonne is swimming in his direction now, lurching in the
backstroke that makes her vulnerable, blind to the distance between her
and the wall she must use to flip.
A bubbly wake skeins out behind her, fine as the lace wedding
train that caught and ripped as
they guided each other away from the pulpit.
Cooper wants to warn her of her progress, to caution against the
concrete that could break a finger, arm, split the skull.
He restrains himself and, at the last possible second, as if she
has some inborn knowledge of the invisible thing that she's up against,
Yvonne spins into a perfect flip, blooms under the onion- scented water.
met at the foot of a neon cross, one breathtaking Easter Sunday morning
on the last day of March, 1986, just as a small group of worshipers
kneeled to pray for the souls of the astronauts who'd exploded in the
Challenger takeoff. Yvonne
had flown from D.C. to Tulsa International, rented a car and driven to
Fayetteville where she intended to hand deliver their fiftieth letter.
Mount Sequoyah, which overlooked Fayetteville, Arkansas, the town
Yvonne referred to as Fateville,
was the site of a Pentecostal church camp.
Loud icons were situated in the blind spots of every sharp curve
to surprise sightseers on the scenic route.
White-faced Mary wore red
lipstick; Jesus was rigged with a tape that repeated "I am risen.
I am risen," as if surprised by this stroke of good fortune.
A slight wind stirred his purple robe, stained with chicken
blood. Cooper chose this
place because one could make out church steeples dazzling the valley
below, how the glass covering the sword-like hands of the courthouse
clock blazed; Yvonne would be able to see Cooper's own tin roof, how the
foothills knuckled into the Ozarks toward Missouri.
a tall, black-headed man offered up the words to the Lord's Prayer, a
silver car rolled to a standstill on the road above.
Cooper's heart accelerated as the engine got killed and the woman
he'd revealed his most private secrets to stepped out into the strong
sunlight. She threaded her
way through the kneeling Pentecostals, come to the neon cross for the
prayer of resurrection, touching the shoulders of three younger men so
that their eyes flung open as if shaken from dream.
The flesh and blood Yvonne ran circles around any charcoal nudie.
She was something to see. Tall,
she carried herself with the conviction of one who comes from someplace
important, bearing integral news. Her
hands. Look at them, see
how the fingers curl, bend, flex as she writes, marks the hard C's loop
into the flowing S, The thumb and index fingers come together, hesitate,
before the stamp is touched to the tastebud tongue, the sweet spot and
blown dry. Jesus.
The eyes he'd once smeared on coarse paper looked straight
through him, they knew and knew and knew him, discerned him by
elimination, were brimful of knowing.
How can you say it? Where
do words go? She was close enough to breathe in, to taste, to be.
at a time, she'd brought their eyes open, nodding when they shook their
heads no. Cooper sat
cross-legged on green grass, just beyond the stone benches that formed a
crude perimeter around the blinking cross.
He wore cotton, razor-creases, had brought an unopened bottle of
Wild Turkey. He lit a
cigarette, sucked teeth, fought with his coward self.
you him?" She
wore bracelets on her wrists.
Cooper said he was. He
stood, shook, said, "Here."
"Good," Yvonne said.
She placed a liter wine bottle beside his liquor and kissed the
side of his face. She
smelled like nothing he knew. "How
long does it take not to be lost around here?"
He'd rehearsed what seemed stupid now.
The sun hit her skin when she took off the jacket.
The Pentecostals were used to this sort of thing.
"All goddamn morning. Do
they have bathrooms here?"
They sat together beside a bench, two people.
Yvonne said she could wait.
"They screwed my directions from Tulsa.
I had breakfast with a trucker who knew and knew and knew how to
get me here. What is it
with truckers?" She
lifted arms, palms up. "I'm
here. Tell me why?"
"Happy Easter," Cooper said.
"Any other trouble? How
was your trip? My father's a truck driver."
"You never said that. You
told me he owned land."
"Want a drink?"
She said, "Yes I would, Smith.
Yvonne unslung a camera that had been invisible and started
clicking off pictures while Cooper poured and drank his.
The dark-headed preacher's voice rose and fell, a cadence which
held within its pitch the whole barbed-wired world, the rain-on-tin
sound of Cooper's people. His oratory was filled with ringing allusions to the LORD GOD
ALMIGHTY whose heavenly mansions were cemented by the blood of the lamb.
"Cheers," Yvonne said.
She knocked hers back, handed the glass to Cooper, then snapped a
few shots of the preacher who was leading a spirit-filled rendition of
"I'll Fly Away." Yvonne let the camera fall, and clapped along.
"These people are out
of this world, Smith. Who
are they?" She took
off her sandals. Her feet
looked like a dancer's.
roller campers. Here's to you coming."
Yvonne touched Cooper's boot with a blistered foot.
"Say something to me that matters.
I want to remember."
saved my life with those letters. I
keep them. We know each other inside.
You never judged. I'm
treating you like a queen this week, Yvonne.
That's something to remember."
this and remember me," Yvonne said.
She told Cooper to shut his eyes and he did.
Then, for a minute by the clock, she touched his face with her
fingers. She traced the
buckle of his chin, the hawked nose that had once been broken, the
widow's peak high on his forehead.
It was like she was blind and wanted to know him; who had ever
touched his face? "Hallelujah,"
she yelled, only half-mock, so that several of the Pentecostals glanced
over, as if they were part of the wayward flock.
pointed out the visible landmarks, showed her the direction to Little
Rock, to Petit Jean Mountain, to D.C.—where he'd once driven toward
only to have a hitchhiker tell him he was crazy to run off to a woman
he'd never even seen. He
told her about Eureka Springs to the north, where a hundred feet tall
Christ of the Ozarks drew crowds from around the world.
Yvonne got Cooper to stand up straight, arms flung outward over
the city below, and took his picture.
They drank to what had been confessed in their letters, to risk,
Wayne Coomers and the Original Sins, to the dangers of how they loved. Then, Yvonne slipped the fiftieth letter from her coat
pocket, slit it with a fingernail.
dear Smith," she said, just as the air burst into a cacophony of
what sounded like a thousand bells ringing up from the churches in the
valley below, Fateville. "I
have loved," Yvonne said, but her voice was lost to the
evangelical's discord, shouts in strange tongues, the singing clamor
knifing up from each bell, all rolled into a single harmonic vibrato
that was offered up to the bare blue place where words go.
Yvonne lipped the words of their fiftieth letter into this sea of
sound, and Cooper could tell by her strong expressions that she was
revealing some long-kept key to her heart.
She seemed to speak of the distance love carries, how we send our
hope out into the great unknown places.
Years later, when he finally realized what she had tried to tell
him, but doubted that such a moment had every really happened, Cooper
would fight to reclaim the sheer kick of the instant when this woman who
knew him to the crooked core had opened up her mouth, and out had poured
Cooper takes a breath of heavy air, lets his body
slide down the slick wall to the pool floor, where he sits eyes wide to
the chlorine burn. He has
read how the voices of whales carry three-thousand miles under the
ocean, how they sing warnings and songs that translate into joy, or even
love. The idea of messages
sent out across murky channels does not lose itself on Cooper, now.
Through the green haze, he can see his wife butterflying,
aflutter on the plane that separates them.
Cooper's heartbeat quickens; he must choose words carefully.
Don't you dare, he says into the water.
I love . . . he manages as she passes.
His voice sounds nothing like the music of whales must.
What Cooper hears is an eerie glut that reminds him of people
who've lost larynxes, who speak through amplifiers held tight to vocal
cords. You listen to me,
Cooper says deep in his throat, breathing water.
Yvonne powers away.
She has quit listening.
They were still out of breath from the steep hike to a flat rock
that overlooked a bend in the White River where nude sunbathers lay
glistening on rocks in the stream.
This was Yvonne's seventh and final day in Fayetteville.
She had carefully packed a picnic of Camembert—it reminded
Cooper of baby shit—bread, balled melon and red wine for their last
meal together before her departure that afternoon.
That morning, Cooper had allowed Yvonne to photograph his ass
while standing naked on a tree stump.
"Let's get married," he said.
Yvonne laughed out loud. The
question was ridiculous. "We
haven't even lunched yet, Smith," she said.
"There are nude people down there."
"Naked," Cooper said.
Yvonne unzipped the day pack, set out two coffee mugs.
She turned the bottle into the screw so that it squeaked.
"You're crazy." Yvonne
frowned. She poured three
fingers into each mug. "And
I'm crazy, too."
Just then, a long scarlet-orange king snake winded its way across
the rock, dragging skeins of shed transparent skin.
Yvonne reached out and tore away a length of scaly skin.
touch that snake."
"You think you know me."
She wrapped the wispy skin around a finger, the sound like wind
through October corn. Nearby,
a dove sounded a thin whistle. Hyades
would predict hard rain tonight.
mean good luck. I've
was a spring morning in April, in north Arkansas, on a river where
people without clothes on took the sun. That was how it seemed.
Sure. Why not?"
they drew their plans on a flat rock where a snake had crossed,
interrupted by an occasional yelp from a bather who'd jumped into the
current. Cooper could sell
his cherry bed, his grandmother's chifforobe, for airplane cash to D.C.,
where Yvonne's apartment had a room with a writing desk.
He'd get a job, something that would get him on her mother's good
side. He'd meet the
Captain, her strapping father, a three time destroyer boss who'd
schooled at Annapolis. They'd
spend a week in summer at Ocracoke Inlet, the family beach house, where
Blackbeard once harbored and the Atlantic was money-color green.
They'd visit the Netherlands where Yvonne had friends,
connections, an old lover. They'd
smoke hashish, screw on soft cotton, live in Adams Morgan beside a
robowash where embassy limousines got washed each morning.
And maybe they'd say vows in the National Cathedral where Yvonne
had been confirmed, a priest unlike the rough man who'd bellowed on the
is my ring." Yvonne slid the snakeskin onto her ring finger, held it to a
sun shaft. "Like the
story you wrote: The
Book of Lies."
"You'll giggle when I say I do."
They kissed on the mouth, her tongue deep in his, and Cooper was
ashamed; all his jaw teeth, the molars, were gone.
"You're dooming your child to dentures," a dentist once
told his mother.
"Get a load of this."
Yvonne pointed out a pair, a couple, you couldn't tell, on a rock
downstream. One was on
hands and knees, and the other surged behind, head thrown back,
They came together, about them the whish of the river washing
past carved rock banks, toward the muddy Mulberry, where the two would
twine with the Arkansas, join the Mississippi that emptied into the deep
silt flats in the Gulf of Mexico.
at them, Cooper," Yvonne whispered, as if their act was a holy
thing. "They're in
love." She touched
watched it happen. Afterwards, the two—as indistinguishable as twins from this
distance—stood upright, holding hands on the jagged ledge; they leaped
out together, caught in an arc of momentary flight.
the far end of the pool, where the floor drops abruptly to fourteen feet
and is printed by the fingers of divers who have broken their falls,
Yvonne is beginning her kick. She
somersaults against the wall and blossoms into the stroke that initiates
a battering four-lap medley of back, breast, butterfly, and the free
that will bring her sprinting home.
She is motion blurred, a sting in his red eye.
This is what he has come for; whatever thoughts have blistered
Yvonne's mind vanished now; her only conscious thought is to finish, to
win this race she reenacts, this ritual for the child she has lost.
Cooper deep breathes. He
knows that the outside world mirrors the morning they met—the pure
pitch of peripheral prayer, dogwood ignited on unfurled tongue—and he
knows the future, how they will suffer each other in silence and how
Yvonne's slammed-shut room will fill and fill, how they will awaken and
awaken until nothing is left of them but the long sleep under stones
already carved in the Solgahatchie cemetery.
Down their carved names the raindrop plows.
He must take hold of the adversary.
Cooper heaves in one deep breath after another as Yvonne's
shoulders, her big back break the calmness, as her arms slice air.
She is near. Cooper
fills his lungs one last time, lets himself coil under the water, and
flown into Dulles International with seventy five dollars, two broken
typewriters, books, a desire like a great fear in his head.
An ongoing poem lyricized the seven slow days since Yvonne's
you take the lost road,
he'd copied, You come to the snow and when you find the snow You get
down on your hands and knees Like a sick dog That's been eating grasses
of graveyards for the Five scenic years.
When you take the lost road You find a woman Who has no fear of
light Who can kill two cocks at once Light which has no fear of cocks
And cocks who can't call in the snow.
You find Lovers who've been listening For the same roosters to
sing For seventy months. Roosters that have swallowed stones Out of each
other's tracks. I saw two
security police cutting out a man's balls And I saw two crazy boys
Crying by the road who wouldn't go away.
When you get lost You come to the moon in the field The light all
Yvonne met him at the rowhouse door, 1705 Euclid Street
Northwest, the address he knew by heart, had written as if prayer.
He smelled like dope, she said, like whiskey.
She took, read his poetry, thought him mad, asked if he had
money, a cigarette, then made love to him on an unmade futon that
smelled like Brüt.
In Washington D.C., Yvonne taught the emotionally disturbed
—eight, nine, ten-year-olds—at an Arlington grade school, sometimes
rode the Green Line home to the 12th and N Street rowhouse, where they'd
moved together, to demonstrate discipline techniques on Cooper.
Evenings, nights when sirens howled, they drank in a bathtub
jacuzzi to slow horn music from a cracked front room speaker that Cooper
had wired to a pawnshop phono. He'd
been hired at a restaurant called New York, New York where Sinatra's
version played every nineteen minutes on the dot.
He made money. They
bought a car.
story was the strangest thing they'd ever heard.
Yvonne had friends
in faraway places.
the morning after the Fourth of July, as Cooper dressed for work and
sang the Hare Krishna song—a shaved-headed troupe of them had fed out
curried rice on the Capitol mall before fireworks the evening before—a
foreign voice sang Yvonne's name through the intercom.
are the lover, no?" the thick voice said.
"1215 N Street. Northwest.
She wrote me to come here. See?"
looked out the bay window; below, in the courtyard, stood a bull-chested
man whose white face mooned up under concrete blonde hair.
He waved an envelope, pointed to an invisible address, nodded.
a bill collector? Bill collectors can go to hell."
no, no. We are friends in
Netherlands. Vonnie tells
me to be
Cooper shuffled geography in his head, while the distant voice
rattled off a story about selling belongings, making a month-long voyage
across the great Atlantic in the belly of a freighter.
Cooper looked down at the man who told how he had not guessed how
strange this United States would be, how he only had seventy-five
American left to his name, and Yvonne had promised.
"Please," the sweet sounding voice said.
She was the only soul he knew.
In his heart, Cooper Smith felt kinship for this stranger who'd
sold earthly possessions and weathered the rough width of an ocean to be
with the intoxicating voice on the other end of astounding letters.
Despite the wear of travel, he was handsome, and Cooper guessed
"There is no Vonnie here," Cooper said.
"Go back where you goddamn came from."
For a moment, the two regarded each other, just long enough to
understand something about what had brought them there, how they loved.
Then Cooper drew the blinds, saw how the lost Dutchman walked
away, toward no place in particular.
skipped work that morning, bought a fifth of whiskey, and meticulously
urinated on every letter he and Yvonne had ever written to each other.
He tied the sour bunch together with one of Yvonne's ribbons and
replaced it in the cedar hope chest at the foot of their bed.
Later, when she unlocked the front door, Cooper was dog drunk,
pouring over the letters from six other men he'd ferreted out.
He magic markered exaggerated slashes over subjects that rang a
bell. One was an Amsterdam
postmark retelling the time he'd undressed in front of a charcoal
sketch. Smoked dope. Jacked off. Cooper
could hear the man speak. This
was the letter he assaulted Yvonne with when she asked him what in hell
he was doing. Cooper took
his wedding band off, put it in his mouth, swallowed.
She threw a glassful of whiskey in his face, and they shouted
every curse they knew, they crossed the line, they said things.
When the police came, Cooper pretended he couldn't speak English.
After dark, they made furious love on the hardwood floor amidst
shards of broken glass, ripped up pissed on letters, because it was the
one thing they had left to do.
they talked it out. Outside,
where sirens bleated on the alphabetical streets, beautifully made
transvestites helped prostitutes apply rouge.
knifes under the shallow water. A
high keen whines in his ears. Volts
of juiced blood rip through the veins in his outstretched arms, out
through his forked fingers. His
nails seem sparked beads, clear acetylene fire.
Yvonne's round shoulders churn in the corner of his eye; the
whiteness of her skin flashes. His
calculation is perfect. He
can almost touch her and, if water were air, a howl would quaver the
"I loathe you.
No matter what I ever say. It's
said it as Cooper shifted gears on the U-Haul truck—"an adventure
in moving"—they'd rented for the long move to North Carolina.
He'd been accepted, was about to make good on his promise to get
degreed. "You have no right."
said, "You don't mean that."
It was hot as Hades inside the unairconditioned vehicle.
was top-heavy. Yvonne was
petrified of being trapped in a hulk of burning metal.
She'd dreamed it so. Cooper
reminded her, said that they needed to get away from the war zone they'd
created for themselves in D.C. They
had to establish themselves somewhere in-between each other's old
"I know that,
Yvonne said. "You owe
me. You owe me and you know."
were in Carolina. FIRST IN FLIGHT, the sign said.
She said, "I loathe you."
And they drove on that way, the tall truck teetering on asphalt
so hot the tire treads printed the pavement.
Now, he can see her wrinkled palms, the white goggle
strap that constricts her head, how the dark suit crawls up the halves
of her bottom. She's fast.
Cooper kicks through the last foot that separates them, dizzied
by the searing keen, the roar in his head.
He can see the tiles on the far wall, how the filtered water jets
out from eyeball fittings.
His hands on her throat, the skin of a dream, Cooper's only
thought is to struggle free, to claw himself deckside,
to breathe again.
Carolina. They rented a
house on a street named Vista, grew tomatoes, peppers, crookneck squash,
walked in the evenings, got a dog, made peace, saved, spent, spent
weekends on the Outer Banks where cross-eyed folk spoke cockney English,
and forgot. Yvonne worked
at a high school, was a swim coach, directed prom proceedings.
Cooper plowed straight through his Master's and got a job
lecturing history. They
prepared a room in the big rent house for the child whose conception had
brought showers of bright blue baby things from well-wishers.
We dress our dead too carefully
is what Cooper thinks at the moment when they intersect, his mind
split—bloodied by lack—so that half of him desires nothing more than
to see the woman float on the pool floor, and the other part desperately
wanting to touch her and say his love as he never has before.
This is what we come toward always, hands on her neck, her
face, their one face hot.
days have passed since the last love letter Cooper would ever allow in
his mailbox. He retyped
it—a dainty envelope from Colchester, Vermont—into the form of an
obituary, taped it to the head of the bed where Yvonne slept.
The bitter fight that erupted afterward ended when Yvonne
miscarried. She locked the
room full of baby things from the inside, wrote I am a Fool on
the door with black marker. They
blamed each other for the day they met, for the idiotic naivete that had
urged them to marry.
They wished each other dead.
Cooper tried to drive all this from his head as he drove to the
pool today, where his keys still hang in the door's lock, where he hid
himself behind the bleachers, where he's watched her spin into tight,
This is where she mourns her dead.
Cooper dreams, turning loose, dear god, she swims.
His eyes are open to the brilliance of an azure sky,
where Yvonne's gentle face hovers just above his own, where her hands,
her fingers, in his mouth.
One. Two. Three.
She keeps counting. Her
lips, human lips. Seven. On his mouth. Everything's
okay, everything's okay. Her
words go inside him. Eight.
Through his mouth.
His body is someone else's.
He smells flowers, Yvonne's skin, honeysuckle in the gutter,
Why are you here? She's
putting her fingers in his mouth, training his tongue away from the
roof. He hears Jesus
then fuck. Just words.
Over Yvonne's shoulders, the belfry clock on top of bright
Founder's Hall. The world
is newly deformed.
She kisses him, slight wrinkles at the corners of her mouth, says
wake up wake up wake up.
His feet touch the deep clover where Yvonne has dragged him.
Cardinals make a ruckus in a nearby dogwood which quivers in
white hot flame, unconsumed.
I drowned you. Something
like I drowned you comes out of his mouth.
Cooper's eye see her eyes.
Yvonne pounds his chest—hollow wallops, endstopped lines, each
a revolution. She's
pounding his chest with both fists flying the color of big beautiful
lips. Shut up.
Shut up. Shut up.
She says, "Goddamn
you, breathe. Take
The sound, rasped S's, articulate razors, who to say no?
I said breathe.
(Photo by G. Fisher)