It's only because I've heard rumors of a woman
who believes that a man willing to drive three thousand miles
to gain even the tiniest measure of self-control
is worth his weight in plutonium
that I stand on this gentrified ridge in Seattle
a mere two weeks after fainting in the Coliseum Bookstore
on 57th Street as I wolfed through a calendar
of twelve medieval women
having sex or giving birth or prescribing herbs
or reciting salacious verse or haggling with Jews over money,
each woman a mirror-image of you
as I lay there in the sawdust
cursing my job at the Institute where I botched
skeins of equations and fueled my lust in the language
of thermo-physics and heat transfer, superimposing your face
over the inlet bell-mouth of a shroud.
THE SYSTEM OF PTOLEMY
Allergic to the spores of verification, I existed on faith
and Benadryl, believing that your advanced case of promiscuity
had slipped into remission, believing John
when he denied phoning bomb threats to the British Embassy,
his feigned innocence a thing of beauty.
I was vigilant,
never missed a dosage,
never succumbed to the truth,
never organized my shards of evidence
into a stained glass window of red and violet,
drinking beer on MacDougal Street, smoking hashish under the Arch
until the system of Ptolemy glowed in the night sky
and I stood at the center of existence loving you and John
as I loved myself, without wisdom or recourse.
SCOTT COFFEL's poems have appeared in Salmagundi, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Antioch Review, MARGIE, and The American Scholar, with work forthcoming in Seneca Review and Barrow Street. He teaches technical communications at The University of Iowa.