by Matthew Kennington
Depends on what you mean by small⸺
Holsteins stand like punctuation in a field;
a car passes the church and turns up Creamery Lane.
It could be a matchbox car, a toy coy swishing its tail,
moved by a boy on his knees in go-to-meeting clothes⸺
the way things move in a small town, one or two at a time,
like God only has two hands.
While the deacons bowed over the sacrament,
we slipped away⸺first her, then me⸺ducking behind
the softball bleachers until the car had passed,
then over the trestle beyond the slough, my tie stuffed in my pocket.
We walked the tracks, which slowed us down a bit,
but once or twice she touched my shoulder to keep from falling.
This was the summer before I left.
This was back when evenings lay like rye grass
under the endless chock-chocking of a sprinkler line,
and it seemed from the way the swallows dove and rose⸺
no matter what
they said in church, there could never have been a Beginning.
At an overpass the highway crossed the tracks. Half-way up
the concrete bank we sat and slathered bug dope⸺me wishing
for some small part of her she couldn’t quite reach⸺digging
in our heels to keep from sliding down that rough slope
while overhead the big rigs jarred our separate bones.
Across the river I could see the whole spire, imagine most
of our families sitting in abbreviated rows. Clouds of insects
shuddered and spun above the joint grass and the biting smell of
“Are you cold?” I shouted.
pointed one slim finger up and shrugged⸺
leaned back against the white cement and stared
at where the birds had tried to caulk the casement.
An eighteen-wheeler sent a swallow tumbling from its nest
to dive and swoop and disappear. I wanted to ask her
something⸺I couldn’t think what. Even the quiet
was all echoes and buzz, like at school where we danced
right in front of the amps⸺not an inch where we could be alone.
No town is so small you can get all the way outside.
They say a safe place in a hurricane is under a highway.
Lying on the concrete, looking up at those great white ribs,
I knew there was not a place on earth to hide. When I turned,
her mouth was saying something lost forever in the roar of a semi
speeding down I-80 from San Francisco all the way to Boston.