Hypothesis Testing; To-Do List; Four Women at the Equinox
By: Barry Roth
Time slowing down to a sort of cactus,
I reduce to the size of an eye-beam
shooting down the tube of my microscope.
I say “study” to you, but that
is a feint, a misdirection.
We ride earth, rotating
under the pendulum.
The ears of desert mammals are radiators.
A bright idea hides the seed
of its own downfall – not the cavalry
of “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” but
one little prick, like the brush of a nettle,
takes it down. Enough of this
and the monster (your cinematic ideal)
craters: back, Sonny, to that mouse-fart
drawing board of yours.
cower before the inevitable
imagine the difference
between inside and out
pretend there was a past
with cavalry and stallions
eat nothing but flowers for a week
observe the result in the toilet
bow like a religionist
rise like a cow, rump to the wind
read the metrics; forget
how they became big shots
the mirror is a wave
slowed to a crawl: ignore it
Four Women at the Equinox
Across the cafe with two-top tables
counter and console like an airship dash
from which they pull our coffee drinks
my friend the executive tends to her
correspondence: small screen up
shining silver carapace, fruit emblem.
No time for us to chat today.
But I’m not jealous. Memos and letters
command her attention like children.
Once she said my writing confused her.
I imagine hers as crisp, hard-edged,
and to the point, earning the rent,
helping young women learn about themselves
in a world of chaos,
sharp with the grace of accuracy, as lyrical
as her hair the color of obsidian.
See a picture of fireweed,
full blooming flesh-pink
and call it by name. The owner
locks my gaze for two breaths of
Pacific Rim air. I look around me
at the pieces fallen away like eggshells.
This workplace was built on pylons
driven deep in Bay fill as proof against
the shaking that will come. I don’t own
that kind of confidence.
When she throws her long arms wide
to welcome me, I could be
just another barn cat,
hanging around for a jet of milk
straight and warm from the udder.
“We can hate men together,” she wrote a friend.
I passed it off as joking, but at the time
my critical mind was disengaged.
At twenty, between knocking on publishers’ doors
and visiting railyards with my steno notebook
(no camera yet in my duffel)
I’d put a lot of New York sidewalk under my feet,
so that forty years later, hop-skipping with her
up Park Avenue, singing You’re the Top
put quite the Fred Astaire shine on my shoes.
In rock-paper-scissors, death always wins
so it’s not really useful for me to wonder
which of those verses she’ll recite
on that terminal, foggy Thursday
when her day and night match each other exactly.
She is, I’m pretty sure, the first woman to ask me
if she can have my shirt, the maroon one
with the button-down collar.
“I look good in maroon,” she says.
“I won’t wear it tucked in.”
leaving me to imagine the nights
each a little longer past the equinox
and the fortunate Oxford cloth
containing her warmth.
In Anza Borrego Desert I woke up
to a ring-tailed cat staring me in the face.
Outside of Yuma my buddy fired rounds
into a culvert so no one sheltering there
under the Southern Pacific main line
would maim us in the night.
Fear and animal curiosity survive in us.
I send a cleaned and pressed shirt as my emissary.
Barry Roth is a writer, editor, and biologist living in San Francisco, California; his biology practice focuses on the lives and identities of the snails and slugs of North America. He earned a master's degree in creative writing at San Francisco State University. His creative work has been published in Sequoia, The West Marin Review, Catamaran Literary Reader, Nostos, and elsewhere, and anthologized in Under Thirty.