The Dubose and Dorothy Heyward Society Prize

Brian Slusher

 

For the Woman Asleep in the Downtown Library

I cannot read for your dyed red hair
spilling over the table where you slump,
my eyes straying from these lines
of Donne to those cherry tresses—
so fierce and artificial. Yet you breathe
easy as the breeze that trembles
the last leaves beyond the window
at your back. In seventeen minutes
the staff will sweep us out into the night
but judging from the battered backpack
standing vigil at your knees, you won’t
be heading home like me. I shut
my book and wonder did you choose
to shelter near these shelves of poems?
Does the lisping of bards soften
your slumber or is their quiet
decay a musty incense you intake
for granted? Fermi calculated
the last gasp of a murdered Caesar
seasons every inspiration we both make—
so too our lungs are filled with Elizabeth
and Gandhi, Millay and Li Po, everyone
who takes a swig of air and lets it go
may whisper within each of us, so maybe
I should gently touch your shoulder,
say I have an unused room
but before I can, you start awake,
shake your scarlet mane,
snatch up your bag, exit so quick
you take my breath away.

 

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