Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
The man took the wrong fork in the road.
It was out in the country. They saw
no signs. It was getting dark. They began
to blame each other. Should they keep
going straight or should they turn around?
They drove past farms without lights.
The man said, If we reach a crossroad,
we can just turn right. His wife said,
I think you should turn around. The man
was driving. They kept going straight.
There’s got to be a road up here someplace,
he said. His wife didn’t answer. By now
it was pitch black. In their lights, the trees,
pressing close to the road, looked like people
wanting to speak, but thinking better of it.
The farther they drove, the farther they got
from one another, until it seemed they sat
in two separate cars. Who’s this person
next to me? This thought came to them both.
They weren’t newlyweds. They had children.
He’s trying to upset me, thought the woman.
She thinks she always knows best, thought
the man. They were on their way to dinner
at a friend’s farmhouse in the country. Now
they’d be late. It would take longer to go back
than to go straight, said the man. The woman
knew he hated it when she remained silent
so she said nothing. The woods were so thick
one could walk for miles and never get out.
The stars looked huge, as if they had come down
closer in the dark. The woman wanted to say
she could see no familiar constellations,
but she said nothing. The man wanted to say,
Get out of the car! Just to make her speak!
Where had they come to? They had driven
out of one world into another. They began
to recall remarks each had made in the past.
Only now did they realize their meanings,
hear their half-hidden barbs. They recalled
missing objects: a favorite vase, a picture
of his mother. How foolish to think they had
only been misplaced. They recalled remarks
made by friends before the wedding, remarks
that now seemed like warnings. Ice crystals
formed between them, a cold so deep that only
an ice axe could shatter it. Who is this monster
I married? They both thought this. Soon they’d
think of lawyers and who would get the kids.
Then, through the trees, they saw a brightly lit house.
They had come the long way around. The man
parked behind the other cars and opened the door
for his wife. She took his arm as they walked
to the steps. They heard laughter. Their friends
were just sitting down at the table. On the porch
the man told his wife how good she looked,
while she fixed his tie. Both had a memory
of ugliness, like a story told them by somebody
they had never liked. As he opened the door,
she glanced upward and held him for a second.
How beautiful the stars look tonight, she said.
Copyright 2016 Stephen Dobyns. Published in The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beach, BOA Editions, Ltd. Also published in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, Third Edition. Originally appeared in Normal School. Republished in Vox Populi by permission of the author.