Listen to Joyce Peseroff reading this poem.
Beach nettled by sawgrass; sandfleas;
radios woofing and booming louder
than the surf; gray surf rolling razor
clams underfoot; kelp that grabbed
your ankle just like the undertow—
what made you choose that boardwalk
mile of bars, smoke you were allergic to,
Sunrise Avenue soggy with last night's
puke? In this photo you're not smiling:
hair streaked in that unbecoming, popular,
dated style—why didn't you let it grow?
What salesgirl sweet-talked you into that
leopard string bikini? Skin blistered pink,
you might as well have picnicked in the desert
under 3 or 4 nuclear tests. And those tests
you passed with honors, no matter, now
you agree with your boss's Groucho-style
assay of your worth: if you were good,
you'd be working someplace else.
The pilgrimage to Rome you never made,
invited to share a friend's palazzo—
Etruscan ruins, cold pressed olive oil,
creamy paintings; party you shunned
after a poet asked for a word you couldn't
think of. You hope your children shed
surliness before they're thirty; you won't regret
summer camp that made one crave a stage career,
another aspire to aid work in Khartoum. Turn that
down, it's giving me a headache—phrase you swore
you'd never use. Did the shining granite path
lead around the mountain, or straight up?
Did you buy a house in hill country
where real estate hunkers low, and neighbors
string deer in the garage? You grained the wild
turkeys; at breakfast you hear gunshots
close enough to shake the scarlet-spattered leaves from maples. The sign at the turn of the road's misspelled; one generation after the family bucking hay for a hundred years moves out, no selectman remembers it's Chamberlain, not Chamberland, Road.