Robert DeMott’s poetry has appeared in many journals, including Ontario Review, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review, Lake Effect, Windsor Review, and elsewhere. His collections include News of Loss (1994), The Weather in Athens (2001), winner of the Ohioana Poetry Award, and Brief and Glorious Transit: Prose Poems (2007). His most recent books are Angling Days: A Fly Fisher’s Journals (2016), and Conversations with Jim Harrison, Revised and Updated (2019). He taught at Ohio University from 1969 to 2013, and lives in Athens, Ohio.
“That’s just love sneaking up on you…”–Bonnie Raitt
Stars gathered beyond tattered cloud scrim and updrifting sparks from a bonfire in the backyard pit. Nighthawks cruised star roads above our heads, then gradually, a blink here, a blink there, fireflies winked in near darkness, as we fed the blaze stick by stick, hand over hand with attic junk and detritus left over from five moves in four years, the weight of stuff even a house that size could no longer bear: heaped newspapers, old love letters, cheap dresser drawers, plastic lawn chairs, and those glitzy magazines that burned a thousand shades of blue and red. Friends and strangers showed up too, damn near the whole hamlet, adding their two cents, for what it was worth. There we were, all of us making merry like champs and you the center of it all, dressed so ravishingly in low slung everything, burning like a streaking comet. We drank and drank and smoked and smoked ourselves silly, summer night fire roaring in fieldstone pit, beer, wine, and whiskey passed hand to hand and swigged in gulps, and then not long after all talk turned randy: who fucked whom, who ate whose pussy, who got a blow job, at work no less. We learned so much about your neighbors. It went on like that for hours, nighthawks long since retired, lightning bugs switched off until next time. You made gaga eyes at me, one thing led to another, and before the last pyromaniac went home, we were currying smoke out of each other’s hair. Naked, you dozed in mid sentence, head propped against my chest, your breasts floating above waterline, luscious islands of flesh: my hands cupped your breasts, my fingers rolled your nipples gently. It went on like that for who knows how long, the candle slowly gasping to a nub and the tub water cooling, until, at last, shivering, you woke and turned toward me, more question than answer. Outside, in the dawn-wet woods, the one-eyed dog–your old brindle colored hound–was running like a son of a bitch, chasing some primal thing, his voice orgasmic when he hit hot scent, just before plunging out of hearing.
I took my girlfriend to the city. We drove down to Manhattan, had dinner, like two out-of-town big wigs, at The Cattleman on West 45th Street. As famous as it was, it’s gone now, closed years ago, but I remember its dark oak-trimmed interior, its dim lighting, and the bustle and hover of people paid to imagine they could make your life better or more pleasant, even for an hour or so. I thought I was somebody, but didn’t know who. I ordered wine–a fruity Bordeaux –I swirled it in my glass and put it up to my nose like I knew what I was doing. I was out to impress what’s-her-name. I pulled out all the stops. The Porterhouse we shared was delicious. It was as big as a car. I think it came straight from Texas. The twice-baked potatoes were the size of footballs, but I never had better. It was late spring, I wore a light weight putty colored dacron suit, a blue button-down Oxford shirt and a rep tie–a standard Joe College uniform; she a spaghetti-strap floral dress, a light blue shoulder wrap, and high heels. She was beautiful in a brilliant and unexpected way, like the long drifts of day lilies we saw lining the highway were brilliant and unexpected. You came around a corner and there they were, lighting up a whole hillside with their nodding orange faces. She could do that too, light up a whole place like it had never been lit up before. On the ride home, tie loosened, churning up the Merritt Parkway in my tiny car, I told her I loved her. Well, that’s not quite right—what I told her was, “I’m crazy about you,” which if I had thought about it or known better, was a different thing altogether. In her driveway we kissed. One of us–maybe both–still buzzed from wine, narcotic drive home, evening of excess fallen squarely in our laps, promised the moon before calling it a night. Her father was upstairs dying, I remember that, I remember us having to be quiet when I walked her to the door. I remember now her name was Mary Lou. I never saw her again.