It was not smoke getting in my eyes
As much as the third shot of Wild Turkey
In relatively short order which made them a bit misty.
I had come up North, ostensibly to reconnect
With the prospective love of my life and set things aright;
She was a grad student, Electrical Engineering
(But not precise at all—she was mercurial, Plath-esque,
Prone to both epochs of silent introspection
And inexplicable spontaneous combustions of rage.
I’d heard she later dropped out of the program
Without a word to advisors or anyone else).
It had not ended up hearts and flowers,
The breakup, which left feelings bruised
And china broken, was unpleasant and irrevocable,
So with an evening to kill before the next day’s flight
(Out of Ottawa, damn near a two hour drive),
I was haunting a bar stool at the prototypical North Country townie bar:
An endless series of the owner’s cousins jamming on stage,
Several dogs wandering the premises, any number of variations
On buffalo plaid in an equal number of shades of red, green, and gray.
In such places on such occasions, somebody ends up your buddy,
Which is how I came to be doing shots with one of the regulars
Who listened intently, sympathetically to my generic tale of woe
Until such point he blurted out (if one can blurt something sotto voce)
I used to bone a girl in the nuthouse up in Ogdensburg.
The particulars of the liaison came gushing out like whitewater;
He’d been laid off from the Alcoa plant up in Massena,
And he’d landed a temp job at the state mental hospital.
There had been, so he said, no shy romancing
Or overt flirtation (and as my drinking buddy pro tem put it,
It’s not like we could do dinner and a movie).
She’d simply followed him out to the room where the trash compactor was,
And, with the whining of cardboard going to meet its maker
As cover, they had let nature take its course.
The girl was not like the other denizens of that particular soft-walled motel,
A broken factory-second of a human being; Christ, she was beautiful,
He lamented, Red hair, skin like half-and-half, green eyes
That ate you up and spit you back out again.
He’d never been able to figure out the attraction—I was just
A schlub guy who’d never had anything but schlub girls—
But he said that she’d told him she loved him—no more than that,
He was her very salvation. If I’d been there any longer,
I probably would have tried to bust her out.
He found out later that she’d been put inside for killing her old man.
She’d hacked him into dog-food sized bits, and walled up the pieces
In her dining room, but he insisted, slapping his palm on the bar,
Swear to God, even if I knew that I would have risked
Sneaking her over the border anyway. I expressed my surprise
That he’d never tried to hook up with her on the outside.
He stared straight ahead for a few moments. I dunno.
I heard she hung herself, but I dunno.
We drank more or less in silence after that,
As there wasn’t a hell of lot more either of us could say,
And as I drove the sparseness of southern Ontario the next morning,
I said a silent thanks to who or whatever kept me
From giving voice to the urge to express my respect and admiration
For any woman with the ability to hang drywall.