George Swimming At Barnes Hole, But It Got Too Cold


Paul Carroll

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 100 in 1998.
Yes, But must
it always, with you,
----------turn sour in the end?

----------Last night,
the talk intense & good as usual:
though even at the start there is
an intimation of November in your voice -
----------bruise of sleet,
-----that withering. And also in
-----the way your fine-boned hands thrash, talking:
----------as if you always have to underline
----------how you've had to traffic
-----with other ways of dying
----------than the body's. Talking,
----------you seem to take a trip, Joan,
-----back to the roots of why you paint:
----------the father, whose hands on you
----------were & always will apparently
----------be those of a competent surgeon.
brilliant. But a ghost.
-------------------And that old photo of you they keep:
-----the 1940 Brenda Frazier hairdo;
-----but something primitive about the way
----------those adolescent breasts, that crook of neck
----------communicate spite,
-----an anger at your innocence. Something primitive too
----------about the look
----------brooding on your poodle George.
But not the memory of that ecstatic afternoon
you spent with him at Barnes Hole on Long Island:
-----dark wet fur bristly with lights
----------as he zigzagged in the grass
-----or paddled about the pool:
----------that barbaric yellow spring
-----you suddenly, there,
----------discovered in yourself - unique
as an act
of love. And yet,
----------that afternoon apparently
----------was good enough
----------to hurt forever. Joan,
-----I've never seen your New York studio:
-----but I imagine from our talks a girl staring
or slashing at a canvas on the wall -
----------thrashing hands
----------delicate & instinctive as a dream.
-----Those hardbitten illuminations
-----in the act of painting - a way,
perhaps, to find the guts to face the fact
-----that love is the name we give our terror.