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David Salner

About Poet
David Salner worked for 25 years at manual trades as an iron ore miner, furnace tender, power plant laborer, machinist, and garment worker. He received a Puffin Foundation grant to study the real history behind the John Henry myth. His fourth poetry collection, John Henry's Partner Speaks, has just been published by WordTech Editions. His poems appear in Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, Poetry Daily, and many other journals. He lives in Frederick, MD with his wife, Barbara Greenway.


The story of Julia and Jerome
is set in a nudist resort, all-inclusive, but
it's not about sex, or even love. It's about -
well, I should begin at the beginning,
the pool-side lounge. After the first drink,
Jerome goes back for a tray of Margaritas,
while Julia waits, thirsty to continue
the discussion about Jacksons
Browne and Pollack, Robespierre -
you know, let's-get-acquainted fare.

Their eyes have begun to develop
the habit of meeting each other in deep
stares that have some sexual content, surely,
the same as if they were wearing clothes.

Happy hour makes way for dinner,
Margaritas to red wine, after-dinner liquor,
and, "No thanks," to desert and coffee.
They pick their way through the darkness,
a little tipsy, and arrive at Julia's door
for an embarrassed moment, before
she says "come in" and uses a plastic card
attached to a lanyard, to unlock her room.
All of the guests wear plastic cards
swaying from their necks and nothing else.
She turns on the light before pulling the lanyard
up over her head and tossing it on a chair
as if it were her last undergarment. She offers Jerome
the other chair and stands before him, opening
a book of poems she has written, published
by a small but respectable firm. He sighs
as the words draw him into a world
of invention, where no one wears clothes
or dies.

On the Second Night,

they dine pool side, beneath a palm.
There is no awkwardness now. Julia
leans her elbows on the table and begins
discussing the role of nakedness in painting.
I'll try to summarize her words, without
pretending to do them justice. All artists,
according to Julia, paint the human body
naked first and then add clothes, as suits
their tastes. El Greco loved velvet, green
especially, with a brush of gold from
the lightning storms on the hills surrounding
Toledo. A darkness of charcoal and brown
is all you can say for the baggy suits
in which Rembrandt bundled his nudes.
For all the great masters, the naked body
was remarkably the same. It was
the clothes that made the woman or man.
That held true until Picasso's time,
when painters began disagreeing
about what the naked body looked like,
sometimes even about how many arms
a model had or whether the belly-button
and backside of a woman, both,
could be visible at the same time.
Julia also railed against the failure
of modern painters to apply clothes.
It was a mark of disrespect for their subject.
When they painted Theodore Roosevelt
or the Dean of the Yale College of Divinity
they always added clothes, shading
the light gray suit, and putting the shadow
of a crease at the elbow. But when a painter,
usually male, paints an undergraduate model,
he feels emboldened to leave off her clothes,
and there she stands, in the late afternoon,
with that exploited look on her face.

The Sistine chapel was almost done
when a worker removed the scaffolding
a day early. Michelangelo looked up
into the great center of the ceiling and cried
at Adam's nakedness, which he was powerless
to cover. He winced at how cold
and tense the poor man looked, with God
giving him that judgmental look.-
Jerome gave a nervous laugh.

On the Third Night,

Julia declared that Poetry is naked,
but Fiction is clothed. The proof is that
all novelists jot down notes-elliptical,
imagistic, dense, not always sensible
to the reader, in other words, naked poems,
which they proceed to clothe in prose,
so the reader can follow the action without
being distracted by the moving parts.

On the Fourth Night,

"I know," snapped Julia,
when Jerome tried to bring up a point about Justice
being blind, and judges wearing robes ...
Something bothered them
on The Fifth Night.
They proceeded to drink too much and have a fight.
From their table by the pool,
on The Sixth Night,
they watched the cabs and delivery trucks pull in
to the resort lobby. This hotel was a popular route
for bus drivers and letter carriers, and as a result,
it was the more senior guys who got the job,
which didn't stop the hotel guests from trying
to insist that they undress before coming on
the property, like the bell hops. The old mailman
said it was fine with him - in fact, on hot days
he would prefer to deliver the mail naked
on the entire route. He told his supervisor
how nice it would feel to go from mail box
to mail box dressed in nothing but a summer rain.

They drank and watched, until Jerome
presented Julia with a book of dreams.
He'd been writing it all week. "It isn't real,"
She screamed - "This place, free Margaritas,
history and art, a woman who takes off
her lanyard to undress - it's all a dream."
Jerome howled, "You can't be right!"
and to prove his point, he slammed his book
on the table - and bottles of Corona bounced.

"That's the beauty and sadness of it,
of all this nakedness," Julia replied, not fazed
by the violent outburst. "The unreality is real.
Sometimes painfully so."

On the Seventh Day,

they waited for their bus back to the airport,
fidgeting in the lobby with their suitcases, until
as if responding to an inaudible command,
all the guests put on their clothes in unison.
Jerome sneaked a last look at their nakedness,
which would never be his again. Fully dressed,
he nodded at Julia, and she nodded back,
and that was that. At a cruising height
of six-thousand feet, he took out a pad
so he could make a verbal sketch, a snap-shot
of thoughts he didn't want to forget, with quotes
from Julia, whom he was already beginning
to misbelieve. "By the time I get back to Baltimore,"
he grimaced, "I'll have clothes on the whole vacation."



You always write about the past-why
don't you write about the present sometime?

Is such a thing even possible?
The present? When I try to find it, I find
something else, like an old man looking for his keys
and finding a photograph of his daughter
when she was a child. I guess she was the Pumpkin Princess
that Halloween. Now I have forgotten
what I was looking for-Oh, yes!-
The keys! We all know what Heraclitus said
about the water of the present,
how you cannot submerge yourself in it
for it flows past, scatters and gathers, approaches
and departs. And St. Augustine argued
the present must be durationless,
since an interval of any duration
can always be divided
into future and past. But can we trust a man
to deny the present
who had such a dissolute past?
Sandwiched between the future and past
lies the domain of the present, like the space between
two slices of bread
before the loaf is cut. But when you sit in the kitchen,
and I lean down and brush my lips
along your neck for a discreet moment
I'm definitely aware of and slide my hands
down your back and under your arms,
until I'm holding your breasts-
the present seems to spread out
willing and persuasive,
spilling like the oil of time, anointing
the space between past and future
with an instant that grows into
this burst of endlessness
this moment



I played on a decent team, with Spike,
who could break any full-court press
by finding the open man, and Lucky,
who hit jump shots from beyond the arc-
but as athletes, pure nerve and sinew stars,
Spike and Lucky were nothing to what
I saw in the Firehouse on Friday nights,
when Cheryl led, twirling Celeste
at arms-length, past a knot of drop-outs
who turned from their brown paper bags
to watch through the dense smoke, as she
gathered her partner up, and the two girls
beat time with pistons of muscle driving
heels in a stamp, till Celeste picked up
the rhythm with her right hand, wagged
her finger at me, at everyone there, while
glaring, I dare you, Come on, Come on,
for she was a priestess, defending riddles
that she and Cheryl danced out-as she
returned yo-yo-like up the other girl's arm,
and the two of them pulsated, shoulder
to shoulder, and kneaded the air with
their hands, shaped it and pushed it,
leaning back on their hips, which were
twisting, faces a blank except scowling,
eyebrows arched in a hardness, in a unison
of you know and I know and we don't
give a fuck and the whole firehouse was
burning with those two volcanoes of
anger and desire, of anger more but
both building up under poker faces, and
every gesture they made faked us out,
as the two girls crossed arms, shook
shoulders and chest, while Celeste gave
a bump to the other girl's ass, danced out
on her arm, past arm's length, and froze
beyond flesh and blood for an orbital moment
staring back in a grimace suggesting nothing
but the end of the song and there's something
worth saying that hadn't been said, so they
started to tremble and stamp, stamp with it
to make sure we knew that something was left,
left out, shake with it, like fire, like rain,
they were liquid and gel, a shimmering
of water and heat, of hair and sweat,
still seething ...When that dance was done,
the stars of last night's basketball game-
Spike, Lucky, and I-chewed gum and waited,
for the rest of our lives, for the next song.



The doctor says it has to go
but not until it has turned blue
and he means an eggplant blue.
Months pass by. I limp around
barefoot in our Phoenix house.
Over the winter, homeless men
steal my almost new jeans
off the clothesline. Once I see
a roadrunner in our alley. At last,
the doctor points at the line
between what's healthy and what's
crushed. "That's where we'll cut.
And this is important-don't eat
or drink after 12 o'clock."

I know what my wife thinks-
that we should celebrate, so we go
and drink one at the Mexican bar
to my big toe. We dance a little,
have ourselves a heck of a time
until 11:59. I sleep like a rock but
next morning when the doctor
shakes my hand-I'm still drunk.
He doesn't know how ridiculous
he looks in his green scrubs as he
shows me the drill motor with the
circular blade. I have a right to take
it home, he says, and keep it in a jar.


David Salner
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