Today's poem is by David Wagoner


I took a director to a waterfall
with an actress, his younger mistress,
to show how wild the world could be
offstage. All day and all night,
the creek for centuries had been rushing
through a narrow, shaded passage
over a sheer drop. We stood near the edge
where a cedar had toppled from one side
to the other like a bad bridge. Without a word,
he led her down to the mossy, half-rotten trunk
and began walking across.

I'd dreamed of being afraid to do it,
but wouldn't have dreamed
of doing it. I might have crawled part way
with my eyes shut, under a gun,
but there they were, crossing in street shoes.

Her stage and backstage lives
were already in his hands. She had already
been putting her only body
where he'd told her to,
had changed her face dozens of times to please him,
had tried to remake (part by part)
herself into all the women he'd wanted her to be,
and she hadn't been good enough at it.
The cast and crew predicted she'd disappear
at the end of the season.

I watched them walking, shakily, afraid
my minor part would be to climb down there
to their dead bodies in a pool.
It wasn't something I wanted to break a leg for.

I'm leaving them midstream in this melodrama
to tell you the sub-plot: the woman standing beside me
(wearing my ring) through all her early years
had majored in wanting to go to Hollywood,
had bleached her hair and gone, had slept around
for a while, had cut her wrists
very carefully three times, had given up,
and had threatened to jump from bridges higher than this one.

She was looking at this couple
and following their careers
with an uneasy, bitter amusement—
another actress losing herself in her role.

We had been lovers once
by this falling water which was still performing
what it was meant to perform
with an endless roar, containing
and concealing all the vowels of human speech.

We were speechless.
We didn't know what to do
with our hands or feet. We had no more
to say to ourselves or to the other pair
(who had made it across and were acting proud),
and we didn't know what to say on the way home.

Copyright © 2008 David Wagoner All rights reserved
from Cimarron Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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