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James Owens



The stormy road in The Two Mrs.Carrolls,
and I am back in that drenched spring
when I was failing at seminary, already
long married and older, then God’s grip
slipping as I eased myself down into disrepute
and indolence. As the poor film wobbles
toward  parody, not even Barbara Stanwyck’s
best soft-shot horror or Bogart’s chiseled
desperation can steady it for long,
but there is something there I want revealed
though the story doesn‘t quite know it knows,
some darkness in its balance of sex, death, and art,
in the painter who kills wives to paint them better,
about secrecy and absence and marriage,
and about happiness -- though, as the scrubbed
young suitor asks the icy seductress,
“Happiness … but at whose expense?”
This morning, lazy in pajamas as it snows outside,
I am captivated most with Bogart’s driving through rain,
sheets of it against the windows, the wipers’
back and forth and back and forth, always raining,
and leafless trees beside the highway whipped in wind,
as if he might drive forever to the edge of the storm,
hunched over the wheel, white-knuckled
with anxiety to bury his crimes with his lust,
in art. How different that same weather felt,
the rainy March when I was a forty-year-old truant,
up at six, three mornings a week, Hebrew
grammar in a backpack, driving cheerfully
off to the abandoned classes my wife still believed in.
She believed in me then, too, as I slouched
onto the back roads, past renewed green farms
and woods waking in the fog, warming my hands
around a paper cup of gas station coffee.
I picked absently at verb paradigms
like pretty little puzzles of wire or read poetry
beside some farmer‘s boggy pasture,
in love with that gray sloth more than with God,
liking the emptiness of freshly plowed fields
better than truth and responsibility.
I was certain to be found out soon,
unable to explain, failing again,
playing hooky, sad, and unreasonably happy.
It stormed every day, as I drove slowly
along the drowning, unpaved roads, mud
gleaming under wet sky, windows half-down
for the raw air and the rain’s soft roar.

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James Owens's poems, reviews, translations, and photographs appear widely in literary journals, including recent or upcoming publications in Superstition Review, Poetry Ireland, The Stinging Fly, The Cresset, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in central Indiana and northern Ontario.

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