There was something tender my first and most perverse girlfriend—
Handsome, sweet but never angelic schoolgirl Carmen!—
Wrote to me half a year after she'd moved away. She’d always
Been unstable, unpredictable, taunting, daunting, and alluring,
But none of that could disclose the author of this message.
On a magazine photo of that ugly yet beautiful Dylan Thomas,
She mysteriously scribbled, "This is you!"
With initials appended which at first I could not discern.
Also a scrap of art paper with no intended decoration that I recall
Except that hand-lettering I later came to know as hers which read:
I love you.
I have always loved you.
I will always love you.
I'd never heard such talk—
I was only a high school student—
Such romance and passion were still so thin and new!
I felt so light and soaring, uplifted as by a butterfly’s wings!
Behind my door at home I cried with joy and confusion
Because the narrow world seemed suddenly so wide!
Our relationship of attitudes, aches, and separations soon ensued
And rushed us forward almost drunkenly—!
I with my fussy weekend boxes of Benson & Hedges,
My new ascot, the fury new in me to touch her,
To grasp her, to play and never let her go!
(How little did I know that grasping was as far as I would go!)
She with her demi beatnik unsense of style and offbeat grace—
Those black skirts and practical shoes and wondrous sweaters!
Her impulsive knowing embraces and awkward virginal rebuffs!
(Emotions out of control as new to her as they were to me.)
We started happily with so much certitude that year,
Yet parted in disarray before the next,
Dismayed by each other’s platitudes and her sudden case of mono.
“Called kissing sickness,” she smiled, not as a joke—
“It’s too contagious to keep kissing,” she insisted.
I said I wouldn’t mind and tried another fondle.
She grimaced, “Don’t be foolish.”
One weekend soon made it clear she wanted other things
When she preferred a girlfriend’s beach house to my visit—
I threw a fit, of course; she slammed the door in my face.
I drove in angry circles from here to near Galveston all day,
Mick Jagger singing “Paint It Black” on every station,
Getting louder and louder to drown me out.
I fell past darkness into a fugue of funk without her
And after that I didn’t care I flunked my senior year.
I saw her once again a few years later—
In another life, it seemed—
At a run-down Austin mansion
I lived in with seven others.
I discovered her on the sunroof when I returned one night.
I was chagrinned she’d spent the hours waiting for me
In conversation with my most annoying friend.
With all the curiosity of an insect collector,
She’d come to investigate what kind of bug I'd become
And disclose to all indifferently how she herself had emerged.
“Do you like to fuck?” she asked as if to annoy me.
“Would you like to find out?” I snapped.
We smiled half-heartedly and made no move;
Whether with too much tenderness or too little,
We still couldn’t guess or feel each other’s groove.
By her expression and easy demeanor at departure,
I could infer that she was pleased with herself and with her visit,
But was it her or was it me who felt we’d failed
To find the mirror image of that butterfly?
After that, at last,
She was nearly something Past,
No more than an evocation, a trace,
A touch of pentimento underneath,
And I could once again
Paint these memories of her as I wished,
Presuming I cared to remember
Either as a butterfly or a moth!
Decades later a TV documentary
Presented a woman named Carmen so briefly,
She was almost no more than a flutter of wings in flight,
As attractive as any painted lady, with wings or without;
I could see she’d come through the metamorphosis
Of her bad times, heartaches, and blues—but was she the one?
I could neither confirm nor deny her in that fully adult stage,
Not her face or voice or pains, nor wing pattern, eyespots, or veins!
Pages on the Internet
Seemed to pin her down in a small Texas town
I’d passed through once, even photographed—
But I didn’t go back. I simply ceased my search.
But why? Was it really her or not?
Did I foresee or fear that if I found her,
She’d smile and think me foolish once again?
I swore then that I’d let that dream forever lie.
Such romance and passion now are old and out of fashion, but
Not dead—just hid beneath old coats of paint, except what I recall.
Current draft: 4/27/2010
Created on 3/29/2010 5:19 PM
1. Painted Lady is a fairly common type of butterfly with five prominent white spots in an upper quadrant of the wings..
2. Pentimento—the revealing of a painting or part of a painting that has been covered over by later painting, or the covered painting itself. In either case, it is usually presumed the artist “repented” and altered all or part of the design.