This was early, before I knew great men
are often great in only one way.
I’d borrowed my friend’s corduroy suit.
I knew little about power and desire.
I wanted to enter the conversation,
my body incidental as weather.
His body meant nothing to me, slack
house with indifferent awnings.
It isn’t enough to be pretty
he said later to a full room.
At twenty I rebuffed his advances, the great
male poet, mourned now and newly dead.
He sized us all up, made some choices.
I was one. He had a beard and rumpled jacket.
He was remote as another planet. I don’t recall
what he said, only a measured comment.
It was before I knew that my father’s fear
was a fear many men shared.
I was open as a flower.
I was eager for instruction.
I was corduroy and poetry.
I was young, and I had said no.
So that when the question rose in me
and I breathed it out in a gasp--
what it took to speak—asked about the wily
unconscious, how one rode it,
he leveled me. He answered: It’s not enough to be a pretty face,
to play the fool and ask the vapid question.
As if I’d tricked him with my naiveté.
He made me feel my no
in that crowded room.
I came back the next day, face
scrubbed, hair pulled tightly back,
familiar jeans and flannel shirt.
Oh, I returned.
Taut as a reed now, knowing the world
I had hoped for, beyond my father’s
anger and fear, was the same world,
KATHRYN KIRKPATRICK has published seven collections of poetry, including The Fisher Queen: New & Selected Poems (Salmon Press, 2019), which recently won North Carolina’s Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Calyx, Cortland Review, the North American Review, Shenandoah, the Southern Review, storySouth, and other journals. For more of her work, visit kathrynkirkpatrick.org.