Dead Straight, by Olive Senior

I’m traveling back home to you but it’s an omen:
my road map’s creased and torn along dead straight lines.

The hill and gully ride is over now and I’m flat out
on the dead straight highway with a toll.

Not a glimmer of the coastline as I try to make it home
to you through a forest of hotels as thick as thieves.

For the sea, the coves and beaches once seen through
seaside shacks and palm trees have been sold.

And the rest of us are herded to the verge by this new
highway while over there our beauty is extolled,

bottled and sold. And gated. In this new paradise the only
palms are greased. And somebody’s beach umbrella

has replaced the shade tree we once sat under and the
towns and settlements molder as they are bypassed.

I can no longer witness on this highway with a toll that
makes us seem as modern as elsewhere. For elsewhere

is not where I’m meant to be. And a dead straight
highway leaves no scent, no monument to the past,

no scenic beauty for the curvature of my eye to take in.
And endless empty space is not inviting. But perhaps

there’s no social meaning to this tirade after all. I’m just
feeling lost without a map as I make it home to you

and pay the toll. You could see it simply as a love song.
To the curving of your cheekbones, to the mountains

of your thighs, the hill and gully passion of your eyes, and
your hair that is not dead straight but very much otherwise.

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Mercury Dressing, by J. D. McClatchy

To steal a glance and, anxious, see
Him slipping into transparency—
The feathered helmet already in place,
Its shadow fallen across his face
(His hooded sex its counterpart)—
Unsteadies the routines of the heart.
If I reach out and touch his wing,
What harm, what help might he then bring?

But suddenly he disappears,
As so much else has down the years…
Until I feel him deep inside
The emptiness, preoccupied.
His nerve electrifies the air.
His message is his being there.

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg, by Richard Hugo

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.