—Tom Goff, Carmichael
My proper Methodist grandma church organist
organized spelling bees, sewing bees.
What she didn’t tell: how she doffed
her fine organdy, 100 degrees in Maysville,
Kentucky, 100 degrees of separation
from her corset, from her slip
and pantalettes. Oh, such abandon
demands a faction. If one’s to go
naked in the Ohio, skinny-dip
when girls are young yet no one’s
yet named the naughtiness, form
a society. Here’s backatcha, Walt Whitman:
A hand at a window parts soft curtains,
a hard masculine hand. Twenty-five women
bathing, and all so beautiful. Laborers
outdoors forget to whistle: this purdah of nudity
takes the breath from the erect pucker.
Have these toughs forgotten woman
the butterfly, man the well-hung net?
And what, what shall we call this corybantic
naked aggregation of lady antics?
To us, D.A.R. equals Daughters
of the American Revolution. To
the sweet cavorters of the summer wind
kissing water lightly south over
the cresting-at-Maysville current,
the sacred letters Delta, Alpha, and Rho
cast a more secret spell:
Derrière as in Oh my lily-fair, Ass daringly
bereft of bustle, Rump aloft and riotous;
all the delectable bucknaked cravings
women savor in throngs of women.
Or the secret delights each lass could enjoy
face to face with the long trouble
and pleasure a boy delivers her,
two little together nudes shuddering
in the shuddering bankside grass.
(from an old painting)
Stormclouds drop their curtains over this private
ritual. At any moment these ladies could be
drenched. Still, they go about their bath as if they
had all the time in the world; as if nothing but
evening could catch them without their dresses.
Don't they know, beyond the edges history
gathers for another war? Not far from the world
they know, tattered flags wave in the streets,
mobs of people shout slogans; generals marshal
their troops and cannons. But for now, chores
done, three young ladies arrange themselves as
Graces for an artist's brush. There will be time
for another war, another cloudburst. The river
flows away beyond its banks, this timeless
moment of the bath.
LADY GODIVA'S HORSE
All those ladies throwing off
their dresses, wrapping themselves
in nothing but their undone
tresses, copy-cat heroines
pretending they're protesting taxes.
And here he stands stabled
waiting to be saddled up
for the next battle; wishing nothing
but unlatched latches,
unfenced pastures, to buck and rear
and pivot, running
naked as the wind, long white mane
to the free horizon flashing.
The TV sounds are a foreign language
meant to sell him something. Nouns
from another planet without cardinal points.
Products without a clue—objects
a kid could wield with knowing fingers,
zombies emitting hectic flashes of light.
Through a door he hears music
he used to think joyful, until he learned
its story. Eternal clockwork of loss,
music as sad as anything in this old town.
He shuts the door, walks out into dark
where the Owl hunts in silence.
Tracks in sand—small open hands
with fingers. Their trail stops abruptly
as if lifted into sky. He can’t
recall what makes those prints. He spreads
his arms; might the Owl carry him
away? But the Owl’s forgotten his name.
THE OLD FARMSTEAD
The pond that a year ago last spring
was her brightest poem—a pool
for skimming water as a depth of words,
for churning, splashing, leaving green-
blue ripples after she was gone –
small waves of time collapsing
one atop another—
and the shed, chinks of rotting wood
held together by spider-webs, line on line
singing soundless at the slightest
breeze, the shed leans more earthward
now to listen—
a voice of light
from the dry creekbank—
and the path to the grove of oaks
sheltering a gravestone, lasting sorrow
of loneliness, where someone
left a poem, a sprig of purple brodiaea
from grasses, already wilting—
as if only fields under sky know
the dimensions of evening.
Birdbox with its swallow’s nest
of neat white feathers;
in one dark corner a spiderweb,
and in another,
catacombs of paper-wasp.
What secrets brooded here?
In June light
swallows swoop over the fresh-