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Ode to Skimpy Clothes and August in the Deep South


A young woman is walking with her boyfriend, and it's deep
     summer in the South, like being in a sauna
but hotter and stickier, and she's wearing a tank top
     and a cotton skirt so thin I can see her black
underpants, and this is the way I dressed in my early twenties,
     partly from poverty and partly because my body
was so fresh that I couldn't imagine not showing it off—
     marzipan arms, breasts like pink cones of vanilla
soft-serve ice cream, hips more like brioche than flesh,
     and the sound track to those times I can conjure
on my inner radio on a day in August—"Wild Horses,"
     and "All I Want," Joni Mitchell and Mick Jagger
singing a duet for me, but I was in love with Bartok, too,
     and Beethoven's trios, moving through those sultry days
to that celestial music, going to the campus cinema for the air
     conditioning and Wild Strawberries and La Dolce Vita,
skin brown from taking the Chevy pickup to the coast,
     at night putting the fan in the window and reading
thick novels until three or four, and one morning waking at noon
     to a cardinal screaming, the red male hovering,
flying above, my cat with the brown female in her mouth,
     and when I release the bird she falls on the grass as if dead,
but she's in shock, and I hold the cat, who wants her again,
     but then the female comes to, hops across the grass
and flies off with her mate, and seeing that girl's black panties
     under her skirt brings back those days with such a fierce ache
that I might as well be lost in the outskirts of Rome, a little girl
     making up a story of seeing the Virgin and everyone
wanting to believe that God has appeared in the parking lot
     of an abandoned store, the graffiti a message, something
divine in the plastic bags and fast-food boxes rolling in the wind.


Barbara Hamby

The Yale Review

October 2012


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