Rita Dove

Nothing Down

He lets her pick the color.
She saunters along the gleaming fenders
trying to guess his mind.

        The flower
        dangled, blue flame
        above his head.
        He had stumbled into the woods
        and found this silent

How they’d all talk!
Punkin and Babe,
Willemma tsk-tsking in her
sinking cabin,

        a child’s forest,
        moss and threads
        gone wild with hope

the boys down by the creek
grown now, straddling
the rail at the General Store…

        Lem smiled from a tree
        and nodded when Thomas told him
        he was a few years early.
        “We’ll run away together,”
        was all Lem said.

She bends over,
admiring her reflection
in the headlamp casing of a Peerless

        On an ordinary day
        he would have plucked this
        blue trumpet of heaven
        and rushed it home to water.

“Nigger Red,”
she drawls moving on.

        “Catching a woman,” Lem used
        to say, “is like rubbing
        two pieces of silk together.
        Done right, the sheen jags
        and the grit shines through.”

A sky blue Chandler!
She pauses, feeling his gaze.

        Every male on the Ridge
        old enough to whistle
        was either in the woods
        or under a porch.
        He could hear the dogs
        rippling up the hill.

Eight miles outside Murfreesboro
the burn of stripped rubber,
soft mud of a ditch.
A carload of white men
halloo past them on Route 231.
“You and your South!” she shouts
above the radiator hiss.
“Don’t tell me this ain’t what
you were hoping for.”

        The air was being torn
        into hopeless pieces.
        Only this flower hovering
        above his head
        couldn’t hear the screaming.
        That is why the petals had grown
        so final.