Wrought Figure

As though you were rare, you confessed
at our second candle-lit dinner to your
history: your women. I must confess
each name stung, each one’s beauty, gifts
and wit, each one’s second language, hair
and eyes, height, even the fights
in which each ended it, or you did.
I’m hard on women, you said. It was
July and night, heavy and fragrant
all around the table set for the
short season out on the porch. Shells
of lobsters, broken, were heaped
on plates, each gruesome body part
a woman scorned. You faced the red
barn, your salt-and-cayenne beard, your
profile inviting the still light my eyes
followed, still wanting you, around and
through the names, the scattered tasty
bits of crustacean. I love women,
you said to the barn with a sigh
almost of dread, especially smart and
pretty ones, Linda, to the fireflies,
then turned your head to face me, indict
me as victim in the sweet fresh crime.
I took a week, ten days, to think it
through, what you’d said, seeing myself some
time ahead named with the others over
drained shells to some pretty other
woman—and smart—listening. I’m hard
on men, I did not confess when you did,
used to not saying so, used to the used
in the figure/ground problem of use.
Ten days I took to trace the problem
through—figure and ground, ground and
figure, used and user, user and used—
and worked that line back around to its
start, your confession and a circle:
and I love men, pretty and smart, as you are,
and am not rare in this but, as you
confessed, successful, meaning bested by
fewer than I best, Let us dance, then, on
the lawn of what’s left of summer, and be
not wary as we dance, the smart and the pretty
in the arms of one another, a woman turned by
a man who loves women, and a man turned
by a woman who loves men.
—Linda McCarristoti