The day before his appointment they went
to the orchard. They always went in June,
and driving up they listened to Patsy Cline
because they always listened to Patsy Cline.
He stayed in the trees until she said Come down
and on the last rung this new thing—her hand
pressed against his back, as if he were a child
who needed catching. He hated her. And
she lifted the basket of cherries to show him
their pale skins, hemorrhaged with sweetness.
Every New England child alive &
enrolled in May 1993 has the same
solar eclipse scorched into her retina:
They line us up on the blacktop,
under the basketball hoop, hand out
pinhole viewers cut from cereal boxes
& say don’t look. Don’t look.
Now. Look now. Now stop.
And of course my whole science class
keeps staring, we who have watched
anoles lose one tail and grow another,
who have learned to diagram & spell
endoplasmic reticulum. I squint
through cardboard emblazoned
with the Froot Loops toucan.
No ring of fire so much as a fist,
hovering in front of a bare light bulb.
That must be the hand of God, I think.
I can’t place His forearm. Class,
inside now. Could the punch
be coming straight at us?
Four sisters: white-pinafored, black-stockinged.
Bangs scrape their foreheads clean.
The youngest clutches a babydoll,
all coral porcelain and packaged curl.
They are crowded in the open room.
They are quieter than mahogany.
No parents, just Ming vases: gold cranes
traced in flight, mouths rippling to the ceiling.
A window behind them allows two handfuls
of light to collapse against red walls.
The oldest faces away, caught only
by the brushfire along her right cheekbone.
Blink away the flare of her starched skirt.
Her hands skim a low bellyline, holding
something in. Five Atlantic crossings to go.
Not one will marry. Vases go in crates, girls
go in cabins. Panels so thick a weep
of sea salt cannot wilt them.
Where was I? Oh yes. Yellow shade.
Brown gloss. And blue, and blue, and blue.
for the John Singer Sargent Girls, 1882
Color Theory first appeared in the print magazine Eleventh Muse.
The Puritans first appeared in the print magazine Inkwell.