CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
From The Victor Poems
Anthony Caleshu

So Long without Women

So long without women, we’re thinking of women.

There is no woman like a woman.

There is no body like our bodies.

Frozen hard as sighs … our shoulders, our thighs.

Much is happening to us, Victor, but we cannot do anything about it.

There is a reason men go off alone, but only you know it.

When we find you, will we find you at home?

We never said you denied the body for the good of the mind.

X number of women would do the X of us fine.

A stitch in time would stop the cold coming into our suits.

Under the hoods of pursuit, we think about happiness.

What would make you happy?

Are you happy?

What would make us happy?

Right now, we would trade happiness for heartiness.

A hearty soup is not unheard of as the root of happiness.

We contemplate a soup of broth and noodles.

Those of us who are vegetarian, add no chicken, no pork.

Those of us who are not, feel the lack of chicken, of pork.

We imagine a woman floating in our soup.

We sip at our soup even though it cannot make us happy, or hot, or homemade.

 

Let Us Tell You about Our Wives

Victor, let us tell you about our wives.

Together we were spectators of late-night minor ops: breast implants, meniscus tears, the removal of pre-malignant moles.

One mole grew laterally, until it took the irregular shape of this Arctic space across the map of her back.

We saw the hole in the ice.

We saw the hole we’d have in our life, took the babysitter to our children, held her hand as our wife.

Victor! we’re only pretending … it was day, not even night!

We made dinner while our wives paid the bills. They took out the trash, while we bathed the kids.

On Tuesday-night TV, we ogled together a pretty girl slaying vampires; on Thursdays, our wives let us bite their necks when we became vampires ourselves.

One wife tore her meniscus in training for a triathlon; we touched the scar.

One had breast implants; we nuzzled her décolletage.

They let us kick and field. They let us watch others kick and field; sometimes they fielded what we kicked.

Life, Victor, was not all bad.

Our wives, we never said, were all that bad.

To keep the home running smoothly requires some give and take, some see and saw.

We seesawed with the kids in the park.

(We’ll come later to the kids in the park.)

On Fridays, we took our wives to Fridays, occasionally to Trattoria Alfredo.

We took our wives to see Leonardo DiCaprio.

Leonard DiCaprio, Victor, may be the finest actor of his generation, but he was not born to play the parts we were born to play.

It is we who felt like Howard Hughes! Without the money, or the sense of adventure, or the women.

It is we who were once cops, who pretended to get kicked out of the cops, who wooed the gangster cop’s woman.

On the way home, we did it with our wives in the car.

Pulled over into the woods, our wives astride us in the car.

By the lake, we did it twice. On the way home, thrice in the car.

Despite everything, our wives rarely made us say please.

Our beards are too heavy with ice to blow like they used to blow in the breeze.

 

Clear Plastic Snowsuit

Outside now, under the darkness of night, we spot a woman in a clear plastic snowsuit.

Why is she wearing a clear plastic snowsuit when it’s not even snowing?

We might think she wears it in anticipation of snow but more plausibly it’s to declare I’ve nothing to hide.

Our guess is that she does have something to hide.

That sort of openness—exhibitionist, fetishist—is twice as deliberate as a flasher’s … an invitation to see who she really is, but to test our imaginations as well.

The man she’s talking to looks like death on a soda cracker.

Theirs is the sort of relationship that will only ever be consummated by murder.

She’s laughing now as if she’s just been hit by a snowball.

It’s a question of motives.

What is she doing with him?

And if he is rich, does that make her a gold digger?

The clear plastic snowsuit may say she is not a gold digger, but it also says, Take me home, I’m sweaty and matted underneath.

Don’t look now, but she’s removing her snowsuit.

If this were happening at 23° latitude, instead of 83° latitude, we would help her to take it off her shoulder.

And she would offer us a smile.

And on that smile we would buggy over the dunes, through the sun and the waves:

 

Until we are without fear of needing to be saved.

Until we are lean and tan, and just as much man as you, Victor.

Until we are equatorial …

                        Until the waters turn boreal.


The Lingering Hours of Late Morning

What about the lingering hours of late morning?

How do we occupy so many of them?

In the mornings, we once lingered over our young wives’ toes.

In the mornings, we lingered over the sound of the couple in the apartment below.

We’ve always known our lives were finite, but didn’t recognize it until we got too close to the end.

There was never anything profound in ourselves, and yet here we are, profound in ourselves.

We’ve convinced ourselves, we’d rather be found dead in polar-bear fur and sealskin than alive in khakis and buttondowns, boat shoes instead of snowshoes on a casual day.

Late mornings we’d spend reading the paper and drinking the coffee with the women we loved.

What’s so great about Victor, our beloveds would ask?

But to ask was to know:

 

Working may be living. Loving may be living.

But friends like us, Victor, will always seek each other, whatever the weather.

We loosen our stride, imagine the calm before the clam bake.

Honey, we’re home, we used to say.

Our kids would jump into our arms; our dogs would bark into our arms.

Somewhere, everywhere, people are finding each other.

The sun may not be shining on them, but we are looking toward the horizon as if it were.

Fata Morgana

In the distance, wearing a sombrero, half-buried in snow, we suddenly see Victor.

One can circle the globe looking for Victor, but here he’s been all along, donning a hat of come-hither hints and half-formed suggestions—a beacon for polar birds of supernatural agencies.

The air below us is colder than the air above, and in all his superior complexity Victor stands with hands outstretched, floating above the ice.

A flock of pure white willow ptarmigan circle Victor.

Bubo scandiacus barks at Victor: krek-krek!

We are so happy we feel the need to knock the hood off the person in front of us.

 

Victor elevated, then lowered.
Victor shortened, then stretched.
Victor, so bright, he looks a reflection of the sky, an unseasonable, not unreasonable, occurrence.

We’re feeling again the turbulence.

Victor, we never swapped spit nor blood, but one drunken night sewed your name onto the sleeves of our sweaters.

Victor! imagine you’re running toward us as we’re running toward you!

Victor: as large as you are high, the same size as a whale, the same unreliable number of kilometers away as the sun.

Victor, why are you wearing the wrong head-ware for the wrong season?

Victor, who is that woman by your side?

Daughter or mother, sister or lover?

Victor is an allegory for a life raft, she says as if she is reading from a book, an inflated bag of wind to which the desperate swim or sail.

But it only warms us to ask for a date.

When she turns her head to the sun, we blame the cold for the intimacy of our squeeze.

 

Victor vibrates.
Victor speeds.
Victor is coming right for us!

We separate and flutter.

 

Victor stretches, then compresses.
Till he disappears, lost again in the atmosphere.
In this world, we say, we know a mirage when we see one.

But we don’t doubt what we don’t see.

We walk, looking at our shoes.

In the ice, we spy Victor’s sombrero like a truss-headed screw.


Anthony Caleshu is the author of two books of poems, most recently Of Whales: in Print, in Paint, in Sea, in Stars, in Coin, in House, in Margins. He received the 2010 Boston Review Poetry Prize for the first five poems of his sequence-in-progress The Victor Poems. Originally from the United States, he now lives in Southwest England, where he teaches at the University of Plymouth.