"Strange State, Wrong Highway, Cold Night"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
July 1 2003 10:39 AM

Strange State, Wrong Highway, Cold Night

Listen to J. Allyn Rosser reading this poem.

Centuries of suffering have led to this,
a warm seat near the fire,
chilled hands curled snugly around
a mug of something hot and good,
no imminent threats, no one squinting
over club or mace or dagger.
The mug is hot enough almost to hurt
the flesh, so one has constantly
but subtly to shift the grip,
letting some surfaces escape
while others brave the heat, so now
the whole body attends, thrills
to the sensation of its two palms,
like sinking into a Japanese bath,
heat seeping through each limb and
agreeably down the spine, along
the phantom tail, all trails meeting
at the center of one's being.
Centuries of deprivation have led
to this merging of animus and animal
who take their ease together
in a burst of health and good will,
so even the voice of Neil Diamond,
insufferable Neil, is suddenly beloved,
or at least forgiven; he gets piped
right into the bath along with
several quaintly dusty artificial roses.
The faint, sharp odor of a cleanser too
is taken in, all of it welcomed
into the bath, the inner streaming.
God knows what horrors my forebears
had to endure so I could choke the engine
and come crunching in imported boots
into Kathy's Country Inn, to settle
near a stranger's fire, to drink a brew
tropical and strong, prepared in exchange
for this green wisp I pull from my pocket,
the convenient bimillennial culmination
of beads and pelts and sacks of grain or gold.
Nothing wanted, no moment lamented:
just being here, as near nirvana as it gets.
One would gladly have given up all
for this moment if it hadn't come unbidden.
But it has, and it will retire soon,
perhaps never to return with such
completeness, or if so then rarely.

But why? Why not this blessed feeling every damn day? After all, the drink needed only be good. And hot. And one had been merely chilled, and a little tired, and lost.

J. Allyn Rosser teaches at Ohio University and is the author of Foiled Again. She teaches at Ohio University, where she edits New Ohio Review.

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