[from Lucia Maria Perillo's Dangerous Life, Northeastern University, 1989]
His Wife Goes Walking
Closing the door on rank yellow lights from
his warm & slipperfooted house, I step out
into the night, wet as the mouth of a large
black dog. I choose a street with the hope
that it leads to this beast's black heart,
whose black drums mount in the back of my
throat. At the top of a hill with the city
glistening below, there's an alley into which
I turn. The concrete walls on either side
are tall and so long they appear to converge.
Ahead, another woman has entered, her footfall
made deafening by the slim corridor. I follow
the spiked shadow of her frail body, backlit
by a swath of orange vapor, the city's breath,
that lies far off, past the end of the alley.
I let my heavy footsteps fall in behind her.
She hurries her pace, never turning around.
I walk faster, closing the space between us.
How easy it would be now, to run and knock her
down! I work hard to keep from playing games
with my feet: rapping out a fast staccato
rhythm, slapping the pace of an erratic jog.
The woman shifts nervously from wall to wall.
I let my right leg drag behind me, the left
stepping hard, sounding the irregular hiss
and tock of a limping madman. I tuck my hair
in my hood, cover my chest with my muffler.
When she turns I keep my head low, watching
through the ragged wool of my bangs until
I see it, yes, her fearful white eyeshine --
like that of a deer caught in the headlights
of an onrushing car. Her hair falls away
from her throat as she turns forward again,
her raincoat hem swaying against the back of
her calves. She breaks into a trot then breaks
into the orange gases of the night at large.
I have let her go because a god is merciful
once He is assured that all poor animals
are toys to his will. As he is assured --
each night he sees me bent over the ironing,
or bent over the poor animals we have made.
But for a moment it was I who might have made
her head bled, I might have made her utter
the word please. I walk home with a stick
and a monkey's grin. My husband still sits
in his chair by the fire, as though nothing
has changed. When he asks how the night was
I say: Like an animal with warm breath,
and smile as I go about his small chores.
Because I can look at my hands and know
they are not the same hands I set out with.
from Ploughshares, The Turtle Lovers
Dangerous Life (Morse Poetry Prize, 1989)