Two Poems

by Ellen Goldstein

Call and Response

The summer’s first bonfire, someone passes
a bottle of gin grown warm from handling;
crickets chew on the rim of night. The only
constellation I recognize is Cassiopeia’s
chair; and over the flames I watch how Georgia
lays her head in Stephanie’s lap. Would Cassiopeia,
Ethiopian queen, who swore her beauty
surpassed that of the gods, and who by speaking
got herself exiled to the stars, whose oldest daughter
was then chained to a rock for sacrifice,
would she be able to tell me who I wanted?
Stephanie, flushed with gin and firelight
puts her fingers on Georgia’s neck. I lie back
in the meadow grass, prickling with absence.
Above me, the queen’s dark gaze, undaunted
by the burning white of her chair, urges me
to leave this new rock I’ve chained myself to
and get away while I still can.

The Summer Country

At the Chatham County fair, I see a lean black man and a white man with a missing finger sitting on either end of a bench drinking wine from goblets. Like a fortuneteller’s game, a whorl of broken glass and stone is laid out between them. Pick one, they tell me, slanting a smile, and your wish will come true.

Sitting on your porch late, watching fireflies weave light though the pines, you tell me “I used to catch bees like fireflies, following their flight path, my hands held out. The trick is how gently you move.” You stare at me across the small circles of lights the candles have strewn between us. The moon rises higher.

You and I climb to Occoneechee Mountain Overlook, where five tons of rock slipped into the river one night. A sign blocks the edge. “Danger, Unstable Rock!” You jump up and down just to be sure. As we turn to leave we see a young man leading a blindfolded woman up the trail behind us, with one arm tight around her shoulder and the other holding her hand. A proposal or an execution. We slip away so there will be no witnesses.