ISSUE 10
February 2000

David Huddle

 

David Huddle David Huddle is the author, most recently, of Summer Lake: New and Selected Poems (LSU Press) and The Story of a Million Years, a novel (Houghton Mifflin). Huddle teaches at the University of Vermont and the Bread Loaf School of English. 

April Saturday, 1960    Click to hear in real audio


I mean, Berkley Osborne and I had
small interest in each other, and

it was happenstance the afternoon
we found ourselves in the ballroom

of Wytheville Country Club, nobody
else around except Judy and Bobby,

her cousin and my pal, so serious
a couple they lost interest in us

immediately, put on a slow record
and stepped out on the dancefloor

to do something that could hardly
be called a dance. An undulating

embrace was what it was. Berkley
and I—joking—started a mannerly

box step. We'd spoken hardly ten
sentences before—maybe I grinned

at her one day in the hall or she
at me in band practice or history

but we'd never touched fingertips
let alone tried to dance. So it's

no wonder we began in awkwardness
and humor, poking fun at the kiss

Bobby and Judy showed no signs of
breaking off. It's strange enough

two couples dancing in a ballroom
with all the invisible chaperones

tsk-tsking, the other dancers not
yet having arrived, full daylight

reflecting over the parquet floor,
a line of chairs for wall flowers

along three walls, tables whitely
waiting for punch bowls perfectly

centered among cups, small plates
for cookies, party napkins placed

exactly so. Music stands awaited
sax man, trumpeter and trombonist;

the discreet piano widely grinned,
and the drums and cymbals yearned

to be punished. Meanwhile Berkley
and I box-stepped our laps nicely

around the ballroom. "Oh my God!"
whispered Berkley; she gave a nod

toward Bobby and Judy, only their
pelvises moving, his hands on her

butt and hers on his. They stood
in place, clothes on, a very good

boy and girl except for movements
of their tongues, hips, and hands.

The record that kept on repeating
was the soulful "Unchained Melody"

which cast a spell over the whole
room—it was like a space capsule

floating endlessly toward unknown
galaxies of eternal mid-afternoon

light with Berkley and me in orbit
around a red-hot Bobby-Judy planet.

Well, the box-step grows tiresome
after you step out box number one

thousand and four. Berkley and I
shifted position, she gave a sigh

then snuggled in close. I noticed
her warmth and her nice fragrance,

also her astoundingly small waist,
and the way her chest fit against

my chest. I think that's actually
what caused the glandular anomaly

that followed—we sort of scooted
our chests around as if we needed

to get comfortable, the sensation
being about as erotic as anything

I've ever felt. So Berkley and I
were acquaintances transmogrified

suddenly into your basic two part
hormonally effervescent lust-unit.

One minute we were innocently box-
stepping away our lives, the next

we were groins and nipples, pubic
hair, teeth and tongues, a public

display of live pornography—well,
I shouldn't exaggerate. We still

had our clothes on, and we didn't
collapse to the floor. The event

was so mental and over so quickly
that the annals of sexual history

don't even mention it. All right,
maybe it was no more than a tight

embrace with a remarkably intense
kiss and maybe the body movements

of accomplished lovers like Bobby
and Judy. Maybe a favorite hobby

of theirs was leading mere casual
friends into situations of carnal

possibility—Berkley and I locked
into each other, parts of a clock

fitting perfectly, moving in time.
We were just kids really, sixteen

and seventeen, we hadn't had much
experience, certainly not of such

intensity or strangeness. I think
Eros looked at Cupid, gave a wink,

and suddenly Berkley sighed, "O,"
which took me over the edge. "O,"

I said, too— We just stood there
breathing and shuddering together.

Embarrassment set in very quickly,
but it was of the bonding variety,

and of course we couldn't go back
to the box step. We tried to chat

and stand where we were, our arms
still around each other, our aims

a bit vague and sentimental. How
kind words were to come to us now

that we had learned such a lesson
of recapitulating ontology, human

folly, and the utter indifference
of stars drifting through silence.

"I have to go to tuck my shirt in"
or "I should splash cold water on

my face" or "Shouldn't we get out
of here?"—our exact words aren't

the point. At a certain emotional
pitch, the tone of a voice is all

that matters, somebody just croon
to me please, and I'll be ok soon.

Ten thousand days have flown away
since that small piece of a sunny

afternoon. Berkley's had her life,
I've had mine, and who can say if

what happened made any difference
to either of us? Her remembrance

may bring her a twitch of a smile
but that's all. Sometimes I feel

I'm a sliver of dust in the great
pattern of creation, I think fate

is a vast intelligence. But then
I recall blips of cosmic nonsense

like that afternoon with Berkley:
Galactic energy started crackling

along the stratospheric periphery
with Darwin and Freud spastically

heaving in their graves and a boy
and a girl in a Virginia town, by

the whimsy of chaos, the theology
of random chance, were flung body

against body. Bless their hearts,
they played their ludicrous parts,

saying "O," and standing in place,
with astonishing kindness & grace.

 

 

 

David Huddle: Poetry
Copyright 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 10The Cortland Review