Jan Wallace


The knock came at the kitchen door. The man gamely continued wielding his bow
across the rugged cello. But the knock came again, a little louder.

Sadly, the man put his bow on the Formica table. The bow with strings hanging out
wildly, his undone, his unkempt, his tired bow. He put the bow on the table to rest.

He leaned the instrument against the oven, wiped his hands on his corduroy pants.

The knock again.

He navigated the room like a broken ship, finally opening the door
so that the door became a frame filled with her. Her glass-blue dress.
Smooth. He thought all her edges are smooth now.

She was talking to him, lips moving rapidly, making little biting motions,
the kind that people's mouths make when they talk too fast
gulping words from air.

He watched her mouth thinking,
smooth as a river stone. Those years turned her like a stone in the Danube.

After some time he startled, that feeling of having been nearly asleep,
catching oneself, as if in class one hot afternoon, or in a stuffy theater,
but catching oneself just in time.
He startled, meeting himself in time.

And here she stood, he stepped aside inviting her to sit at the table
indicating that she might have a cup of something with him.

He knew she would understand what he meant if he simply
held up a cup. Cup--tea, Ovaltine, deep red wine. He owned 2 cups,
this is what they might hold.

She was still talking, he could see the names of their children emerge
from her lips into air like fish, dissolving.
He could see the ragged trail from her house to his.
From their house to her house, and to his.

And he could see the smooth line of her chin, the scar on her cheekbone,
the three freckles on her upper arm.

She asked him a question and he startled again.

He looked at her, his head in his hands, chin resting on palm,
and shook his head slowly.

He took the red wine down from the counter,
he could reach everything in his tiny kitchen,
his kitchen was a little boat.

He poured out two glasses. And she quit her chatter. She looked hard at him, close
enough to listen and then he felt she had,
yes, she had returned.

He took the cello from its rest beside the oven
drawing its hips to him,
the waist between his knees.
She saw the rugged wood, she saw the way it had weathered.
He took his tired bow and drew it across the strings,
coaxing from the wooden belly all the sounds
he could not bring himself to make.

The man's old brown shoes moving slightly with the notes
as if the music were wind.
And she swayed a little leaning against his simple chair
as if it were her bones.

I don't know what happens then. I have to walk away when music
gets like that, low notes hollowing the air making a house
for two people. I have to close the rooster print curtains.
Let the man and the woman rest in the kitchen.

Copyright 1996, Jan Wallace

Jan Wallace teaches poetry in the University of Washington Extension Program. She's
received a Stegner Fellowship (Stanford) and grants from the Seattle Arts Commission
and Washington States Arts Commission. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry Northwest,
The Madison Review, Bellowing Ark, Seattle Review
, and other publications.