to the student who accused me of teaching porn
Oh, blonde and blue-eyed Laura, child who blushed
at David (uncircumcised, marble, nude),
whose shame precluded Sally Mann, the lewd
photography of Mapplethorpe—you must
have never, I believed, encountered lust,
a penis quickening when touched or wooed.
Oh, Laura, only student I’ve eschewed
in class. Perhaps (I fear) it was unjust.
Tonight, my husband snores until my tongue
allures him heavenward. His arch evokes
the neighborhood novitiates at prayer,
how they arrest my evening walks. Among
their alabaster habits, prim and cloaked,
they’re all I’m glad I’m not. (But I still stare.)
My first love asks if I’ve written about him
Walking the dog, I approach downtown Fredericksburg
in the same direction as Longstreet’s corps,
marching more than a century ago
on the day that would become my birthday.
In good weather, rangers comb the battlefield
where men fell like leaves in autumn,
their park uniforms immaculate,
metal detectors on the highest setting.
According to the fashion magazine,
Bullet shells + a brass chain = edgy sophistication!
The model (bleached teeth, blonde) smiles,
the remnants sleek on her chest.
So many animals perished collaterally
that they called it Dead Horse Hill.
As we circle the field, the rangers fan out,
keep their machinery spread wide,
avoid cross talk, the false positive.
In my empty house, the forgotten kettle wails,
weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear,
then boils dry, hot to the touch.
Soon the smoke alarm will sound,
the scent of scalding will permeate my street.
It won’t really smell like gunpowder,
but perhaps on this hill of scavengers
a middle-aged man
will raise his head for just a moment,
close his eyes, and pretend he understands.
Then he’ll lower his gaze,
covering every inch,
looking for a button, a buckle, a bullet:
those artifacts that held things together,
and the one that missed its mark.
Elizabeth Wade lives and writes in Richmond, Virginia, and Brooklyn, New York. She holds degrees from Davidson College and the University of Alabama, and her work appears in Kenyon Review Online, Oxford American, and others. The work her student in “Writing About Art” considered pornographic was Michelangelo’s statue David.
*The italicized line in stanza three of My first love asks if I’ve written about him is based on “Accessories Report:: Recycled Metal Jewelry,” Lucky Magazine April 2009, p. 104. All other italicized lines are quoted or paraphrased from the National Park Service webpage for the Battle of Fredericksburg, http://www.nps.gov/frsp/fredhist.htm.