You Were Born One Time
Ninety-Six Press, Furman University (Greenville, S.C.)
WINNER of the
2013 South Carolina Poetry Archives Book Prize
About Quitman Marshall
From You Were Born One Time:
Now look where we are.
The stars look awfully crowded
up there, but I’m no judge
of distances. From this point
in my life everything, like the time
we had or have together, seems very far
from long enough. Tonight there is one
so thin it’s not even a sickle yet
I can see the full moon waiting
in shadow round behind it.
What did we know when we exposed
that first sliver of ourselves?
What did we claim to be or call
the light we lived and were lit for?
It’s wide, what named and rounded us
before we turned out this way.
Today, through the balcony Romanesque windows,
into Carolina blue, as the preacher talked
about the Pentecost, I wondered what I did.
Somehow I paid my way into the Museo Vaticano
and touched a lot of marble I wasn’t supposed
to touch, looked up with the world at the Sistine ceiling,
watched black ants feed their tunnels under the Forum,
and even chased a recommended cake to a certain grand café.
Since then, in the piling up or vanishing of days,
I’ve kept money in my pocket,
been trusted by some to show up and failed
the trust of others. Sometimes I can’t believe
a moment like this until I taste the wine
in the glass you just gave me. It was all
a gift, and, twenty-one, I took it. Today
I maybe want him back, the silent boy
who since has touched exquisite flesh,
but who really couldn’t tell me more
than the cardinal flaming there on the walk
that my daughter has just, with pride in her work, swept clean.
where I gripped her slender leg,
still warm, and dragged her from the road.
It was night and her eyes still shone
futilely bright for the passing cars. They
caught me, looking up as they were
from her reclining, her eyes too late
to see or be seen except by me,
who also gripped her other leg
not yet wet from the blood
flooding where the white
tail of warning had been, her red life
now painting the road behind.
A night class had me driving home
from students who’d fidgeted
at the word “torture,” knowing
one definition of the word,
but nothing of its reach.