When apples bobbed in the surf
after the wreck of the Alpena,
she waded out in darkness
as though entering a play
in which gauzy clouds became a Greek chorus
singing a story of a ship and a storm
and a promised future. She listened
and thought of all the boys
who left her, and of the rot in her core
some had palpated and tried to name.
When the clouds parted,
she lifted her skirt, bent down,
and dipped her face into the lake,
trying to sink her teeth into the white flesh
of a Pippin or a McIntosh
and, in the sinking, claim her berth
as the next to marry.
She knew of this custom,
borrowed from Romans and Celts,
and when fruit floated to shore in October
and clouds sang to her,
it seemed a sort of destiny.
Out of disaster would come matrimony, she thought,
as she scooped the reflections of old stars
into the hem of her skirt–
white veil she would raise
again and again
for a man who was floating to her
on the lid of a lost piano.
Only last week it was still
October: high cumulus clouds
and something gentle in the air.
Now waves pummel the hull
and sleet lashes his face.
He thinks of the woman he met
that night the ship docked in Chicago–
the straps he slipped off her shoulders;
her dress, which slid to the floor.
Linoleum. Waxed, slippery.
He wants her, or he wants
what came after her: a coffee pot,
three oranges in a red bowl,
a ball game on the radio,
a dresser for his wallet,
a rug beside the bed, a geranium
on the kitchen window sill.
Maybe, most of all, the geranium,
which was not too dry
and not too wet,
and smelled of the earth–
soil and chlorophyll