Waiting for Bob

by Kathryn Stripling Byer

I wouldn’t show my rough drafts to a dog,
you declared, as we walked out of workshop
toward Spring Garden, me in confessional mode
about humble beginnings that failed
to become poems, lackluster jottings that I’d never show
you, not to mention my dog. I didn’t have a dog then,
and neither did you when we both lived a few houses
down from each other on Highland, soon enough transformed
to parking lot after I left. My landlady fretted, They’re going
to pave over everything. You tried to stop them,
but how stop the bulldozers’ bullying
vision of infinite parking lot flanking an infinite
football field, skyscraper dorm, pavement
needing a year-round deployment of leaf-blowers?

Bob, I confess, sometimes you scared me,
a South Georgia country girl, gone north a little ways.
You never needed to make any false claims for poetry
and, now that I think of it, you never told the same story twice.
I think I understand, now, what you taught us,
how not to read poetry. When you praised a poem
Mr. Tate, the semester before, had declared failed,
Hiromi, reclusive exchange student, blurted
But it was supposed to have been a sestina.

I don’t give a damn what it’s supposed
to be, you shrugged, taking a drag on your cigarette.
(You had a flair for the noir,)
When George set the trash can on fire with his cigarette,
we should have taken its burning as metaphor.
Let a poem be what it is. Trash your templates. To hell
with assignments. Thank god you never made
us write villanelles! Speaking of cigarettes
you drafted rough enough lines for the jerk
who enjoyed crashing parties and dousing his Camels
in grad. students’ drinks. You gave a mean imitation of authors
you’d met, which was great fun until, doing Mailer,
you showered a mouthful of whiskey on me!
By mistake. Your target? I’ll never tell.

I ought to give this rough draft to my dog
for recycling, but I’ll let it stand for a little while longer.
For trying to to call you back, walking up Highland
toward Betty and Winthrop and Caroline, I won’t apologize.
Shamelessly, I now recall the persimmons that fell to the sidewalk,
my landlady asking if ever I’d made a persimmon pie.
I often waved to the man in the Central of Georgia caboose.
and now I wave to you walking fast down the hill toward your last class,
where we, bearing poems in our hands, wait for you to walk in.

KATHRYN STRIPLING BYER’s poetry, prose, and fiction have appeared widely, including Hudson Review, Poetry, The Atlantic, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, and Southern Poetry Review. Often anthologized, her work has also been featured online, where she maintains the blogs “Here, Where I Am,” and “The Mountain Woman.” Her first book of poetry, The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest, was published in the AWP Award Series in 1986, followed by the Lamont (now Laughlin) prize-winning Wildwood Flower, from LSU Press. Her subsequent collections have been published in the LSU Press Poetry Series. She served for five years as North Carolina’s first woman poet laureate.