Persephone at the Crosswalk
Jun. 20, 2010
She could be my daughter,
this girl with corn silk hair --
like mine at her age, but prettier, neater --
who stands on the other side of the street
with a stack of Nancy Drews this sticky
August day in Stoughton, Wisconsin,
waiting, like I am, for the light to change.
Which takes a minute longer than it should.
So that we stand here, regarding each other,
a woman in mid-life, and this girl, her legs
like spears, so delicate and untouched she
hardly seems real, everything about her
perfect and young, from her cut-off
blue jeans, to the way her lashes curve
on her cheek, to her body, wrapped tight
in itself as an ear of new corn.
I'm on my way to the library; she's
headed home, the books I imagine
she'll spend the afternoon reading
tucked in one arm, all she'll need
as she watches her sisters and brothers.
Cars purr past as we wait for the light,
looking right into one another,
as strangers sometimes do, with clear eyes
and kindness. It's her beauty that draws me,
but I can't say why she looks back,
except for the weight of my gaze sweeping
her body, hungry for what I have missed,
the daughter I would have had not a girl
at all but 21 now, nothing on this earth
more gone than her. Then the light clicks,
the little figure of a man blinking
bright in its dark eye, and the girl
and I pass one another, smiling.
She looks at me closely, veering so near
I almost think she'll speak, the slight
breeze of our passing just brushing
one another's skin. I don't know
what the girl sees when she looks
in my eyes, or what looks back at me
from hers, or why this street is a river
between worlds, here in the middle
of the country, in the middle of summer,
the fields around this small town rippling
with harvest, cornstalks taller than any child.
But when I reach the other side I stop
and look back, unable to leave her.
Only to see she's doing the same,
time and no-time passing between us,
tasseled and falling, as we stand here,
smiling again, then suddenly waving
before we turn and walk away,
the sun raining its yellow plenty
everywhere down upon us
Alison Townsend is the author of two books of poetry, Persephone in America and The Blue Dress, as well as two limited edition chapbooks, And Still the Music and What the Body Knows. Her poetry and creative nonfiction appear widely, in journals such as Crab Orchard Review, Margie, Rattle, Arts & Letters, Fourth Genre and Southern Review, and she has won many awards, including a Pushcart Prize, publication in Best American Poetry, and literary fellowships from the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Virginia Center for the Arts, among others. She teaches English, creative writing and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and lives with her husband on four acres of prairie and oak savanna in the farm country outside Madison.