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Robert Wrigley: By the Edge of that Water

Mississippi River Festival, 1970

She wandered to him
through a crowd of thousands
before an outdoor concert by the Grateful Dead.

Who she hunted for
she could not find, dusk coming on,
everyone already blissfully stoned.

Reclined on the lawn he spied to his right
just inches away her bare feet, two
silver ankle bracelets, and legs he allowed his eyes

— as he would, he was nineteen — to slowly
ascend the length of, while she rotated
half-step by half-step in the corridor

of grass between his blanket
and his neighbors’, while she turned and turned,
until he lay peering up past the awning

a cropped-top T-shirt made over her breasts.
That was when she looked down on him and smiled,
and he thought he could not breathe.  She said “I’m lost.”

But she was not the one lost.  He’d been
an hour waiting for friends to arrive, a group
that included in those days a girlfriend.

So he didn’t invite her 
to sit with him but mildly shrugged and smiled back,
and she wandered off on her search.  

And that’s almost all of it. 
Two words passed between them, 
neither his, but half a century later on he wonders,

who brings a book to a Grateful Dead concert?
Otherwise emptyhanded she clutched high in her right arm
a bright familiar red paperback he loved.

Any other book, he would have forgotten.  But it was Yeats.  
He had yet to cast a vote, but would in six months be drafted.
He didn’t know a thing except a few poems,

and they meant nothing to him
but were all he could think about every day.
Now he’s old and cannot believe he did not rise

to one knee and recite for her “The Collar-Bone of a Hare,”
which he had that very morning
committed to memory.  How could he not have? 

He remembers the poem, every word.  The comely trees
and the lawn, a kiss for a kiss, the bone worn thin
by the lapping of water.  A gimlet.  What was a gimlet?

They could have run away together
— Ireland, Idaho, Canada, Kansas —
pledged their souls to each other, to poetry, to Yeats . . . .

But now he’s gone and done what he could without her. 
If the Collar-bone had not sufficed, he could have tried
the swans at Coole or “Brown Penny.”

Maybe even “Adam’s Curse,” with its “old high 
way of love,” although he wasn’t sure what that was.
Then just before the Dead struck up the opening number —

“Casey Jones” — his friends arrived, and a worn
but waxing crescent moon’s low light shone
over the indistinct and stirring throng of bodies.

All around, indistinct faces, murmurs, roach-lights, 
glints from tipped-back bottles.  Toward the stage,
electric rainbow flashes off guitars, Garcia’s black beard.

He can see it — a green stone earring in her left ear.
Could have told her how beautiful it was there.
A memory, even now, bright as any moon.

Copyright 2022 Robert Wrigley

Robert Wrigley is the author most recently of The True Account of Myself as a Bird (Penguin, 2022). His many awards and honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives near Moscow, Idaho.

Robert Wrigley (Photo Credit: poetry foundation.com)

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