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Then

Written by: Philip Levine | Biography
 A solitary apartment house, the last one 
before the boulevard ends and a dusty road 
winds its slow way out of town.
On the third floor through the dusty windows Karen beholds the elegant couples walking arm in arm in the public park.
It is Saturday afternoon, and she is waiting for a particular young man whose name I cannot now recall, if name he ever had.
She runs the thumb of her left hand across her finger tips and feels the little tags of flesh the needle made that morning at work and wonders if he will feel them.
She loves her work, the unspooling of the wide burgundy ribbons that tumble across her lap, the delicate laces, the heavy felts for winter, buried now that spring is rising in the trees.
She recalls a black hat hidden in a deep drawer in the back of the shop.
She made it in February when the snows piled as high as her waist, and the river stopped at noon, and she thought she would die.
She had tried it on, a small, close-fitting cap, almost nothing, pinned down at front and back.
Her hair tumbled out at the sides in dark rags.
When she turned it around, the black felt cupped her forehead perfectly, the teal feathers trailing out behind, twin cool jets of flame.
Suddenly he is here.
As she goes to the door, the dark hat falls back into the closed drawer of memory to wait until the trees are bare and the days shut down abruptly at five.
They touch, cheek to cheek, and only there, both bodies stiffly arched apart.
As she draws her white gloves on, she can smell the heat rising from his heavy laundered shirt, she can almost feel the weight of the iron hissing across the collar.
It's cool out, he says, cooler than she thinks.
There are tiny dots of perspiration below his hairline.
What a day for strolling in the park! Refusing the chair by the window, he seems to have no time, as though this day were passing forever, although it is barely after two of a late May afternoon a whole year before the modern era.
Of course she'll take a jacket, she tells him, of course she was planning to, and she opens her hands, the fingers spread wide to indicate the enormity of his folly, for she has on only a blouse, protection against nothing.
In the bedroom she considers a hat, something dull and proper as a rebuke, but shaking out her glowing hair she decides against it.
The jacket is there, the arms spread out on the bed, the arms of a dressed doll or a soldier at attention or a boy modelling his first suit, my own arms when at six I stood beside my sister waiting to be photographed.
She removes her gloves to feel her balled left hand pass through the silk of the lining, and then her right, fingers open.
As she buttons herself in, she watches a slow wind moving through the planted fields behind the building.
She stops and stares.
What was that dark shape she saw a moment trembling between the sheaves? The sky lowers, the small fat cypresses by the fields' edge part, and something is going.
Is that the way she too must take? The world blurs before her eyes or her sight is failing.
I cannot take her hand, then or now, and lead her to a resting place where our love matters.
She stands frozen before the twenty-third summer of her life, someone I know, someone I will always know.



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