Joseph Enzweiler

The Man Who Ordered Perch

Through a bronze mist our century passes,

the general celibate atop his horse.

Cars in the square circle him all day,

eyes with their secrets hurry to work.

The gold dome on the county seat gleams

at noon. The price of gas goes up and down.

Since I saw you last, I could have waited

these fifteen years right here, by the sunny

glass of this café. You’d gone and raised

a family, bought them milk and grapes,

braces to recommend a smile, books

to think straight the world.

Made them strong, then swept like grass fires

from your arms. Took a moment every spring

to mourn the question never asked, or asked

at the roadside lightly, a soft rain stepping by.

I’d have coffee and pie, pork chops

and dressing. Morning and evening come,

then seasons, the town breathing days

like bellows. Then it’s months and weeks,

now only hours till you arrive.

And I did wait, though every day I changed

the town and statue, the miles to lunch,

driving alone across my thoughts

like acres of windy rye.

In your letter you say all the men

you’re closest to never fall in love with you.

What if I did? What’s gained and lost?

My eyes would stand helpless as windows

when you spoke. There’d be some other guy

in my shirt. I’d make up history,

carry tears around like loose change.

I’d be a fool, a sorrow, so fixed upon

one kiss I’d miss the ripple on the stretched

canvas of heaven your laughing made.

Yet it’s true, as sure as the general

stormed Atlanta, I could love you that way:

hit the switch by accident, leave the gas on

by mistake. My dear, my sweet, we tried

to make us bigger to hold the earth,

then drove across it past the soft eyes

of grass, Ohio corn above our heads

the first day when we hid and talked

like children and the dry October miles hissed,

things angels would command in dreams.

All the churches we struggled to,

their century gone to briars on nameless

hills. But we were right on time.

In snow or mud you loved to bring me there,

your face a meadow of shifting light.

The Irish and Germans loved God

on different hills; their buggies

sweated in July. Today those white stones

lean and fall, still mark their ruined

disaffection. Their roofs are gone and timbers

span the soil. In all of this forgetting,

two square holes look up yet for answers,

while oak and hickory, jutting silent

at the sun, are the truer resurrection.

Some days we don’t want symbols and love

is what it says, or more exactly, holding on.

Our bed extends all directions into dark.

We’re the unwatched fire, struggling

in the rain. Perhaps we’d make it too,

out of deep held coals that lasted the night.

But I always want to look at you and know

the thing past telling, to smile at the house

you live in, its ancient windows patched

with sun and wonder who was Grace, who was she,

who lived a hundred years before you there?

Did her little thoughts wind up the stair,

was she winglike a century ago

like you, her smile clutching secrets

below red maples in the window?

We both look up together. “Oh yes,

we’ll have the lamb.” When the waiter turns

the roof flies off. The stars are having lamb

as well and choice of vegetable.

Everyone dines with us tonight, even the dead

across the street, below the water tower

in their private booths. No place to be,

just this busted clock and silverware.

You know I love you in all the unartistic ways,

in every artless malted milk and red

upholstered booth. I love you long enough

to want it all again, one more spin,

this life, redeem the coupon, climb hills

wild in thorns to a sudden graveyard

where stones of children gaze at us

with tiny wounds. Then go and eat and talk

of other things as the night pours down in sheets.

I’ll be there waiting two weeks from now,

same table and chair, or in twenty years

with my pills and silver hair. You’ll know

who I am. I’ll be the man who ordered perch,

the special every day; pinned to my lapel

this carnation of thoughts you’ll know me by.

Bring your map of old St. Stephen’s in its

lost backwash of years. I’ll kiss you on the mouth

and mean it too. “You’re still so beautiful,”

I’ll say, to see the frozen blue you never lost,

your halted clock tower eyes.

We’ll run away or not, take a year for lunch.

The meal’s right here before us.

What answer can I give you to the question of love?

We’re in the midst of laughter now,

the plate glass shakes with thunder.

Outside the pedestal is empty. Horse and rider

traded in their pose for a last assault.

Just galloped off and saw some things,

lost and bronze in the rain.