Chesapeake & Ohio

Does this deep
spit of mud and broken
shells, dug eight
feet at least into the
earth, flow toward
the West, or the wide,
muddy expanse of the
Chesapeake? The banks
are a blinding moss-
green against the rust
bricks of the towpath,
nearly screaming with
the heat of late-day
light. I am sitting
on a wooden strip
that flanks this bygone
canal, shocking
in the city, and sightly, too,
if you don’t get too
close to the gnawing,
natural smell, when a
man walks over
and sits down.
He smiles.
His jeans end
several inches above
his white sneakers, lace-
tied, rare in this town of
shined patent black.
I feel my own heart
beat tittering in time
with the birds, and
wonder: when did I
become afraid
of the unsolicited
smiles of men?
A few feet away,
he lies down, closing
his eyes in the yellowing
light, sneakered
feet still dangling
down. What in my
life has me scanning
every possible ill, every
vile statement or shadowy
invitation that could
unfold, even here
in this teeming
sunlight with couples
grazing by?
I breathe in: grass
with an underlay of metal.
He stands up,
stretches, and
walks away.


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