There is something really messed up with the formatting. Supposed to be 4-line stanzas--looks fine on the original.
The Night that Nothing Happened
Jean proposed the idea. Easy to imagine as we drove across Nebraska,
flat all day, laughing, counting hawks, taking turns at the fur-covered wheel.
The plan? We'd save money, lodge free by sleeping at a jail. Simple.
She'd read about it somewhere. We'd brag about it later. We'd tell stories
to our grandchildren. We'd do it on the way back, too. We drove on, told stories
to each other. In our log, we recorded the towns we passed: Oshkosh, Bridgeport,
Scott's Bluff, signs saying next gas 70 miles. Next gas 85 miles. Took pictures
of weathered rock formations, pronghorn antelopes leaping over sagebrush.
Sang into the wind rushing into open windows: I've been working on the railroad
and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. In Wyoming—a day west of Iowa City, a day east of Pocatello—
we decided to stop. It wasn't Cheyenne or Laramie, but a tiny town 120 miles to the next gas.
A hamburger at Mabel's diner, a bowl of chili. Then it was time
to test the idea. At the jail door, we fidgeted,
each trying to slip behind the other. Which of us spoke first
when the Sheriff asked what we wanted? We looked back at our car,
forgetting the bravado of earlier talk.
But one of us asked. Probably her. The Sheriff cocked his head,
puzzled. Looked us over. We were twenty,
slender, had curves. Our breasts pressed
suddenly on the insides of our T-shirts. Big
and soft. We were alone with the Sheriff. He suddenly seemed particularly
male, large, strong. No chaperone, no witness. I looked at the door,
took a step back. Jean took a step forward.
He said, "I will have to lock you in
for the night." We nodded. Two cells, two beds. One big key.
We went in; the door clanked shut. He sat at his desk. We sat on our cots
and looked at him. Later, he approached our cells, keys jingling. Said
he was leaving. Turned off the light
and left us alone. Shadows of bars divided the floor.
Stripes of setting sun, neon lights from Main Street, the moon.
Perhaps Jean was actually calm. She talked, spoke
as if we were still in the car. Still free. Maybe I spoke too, pretending
to be having fun. But if I spoke, even if I smiled,
I huddled in a dark, close space, smaller than a jail, tighter than a narrow cell.
Lay watching the shifting stripes and segmented sky. Awake. Not wanting
to stay there again. Not ever. In the morning, the sheriff returned and unlocked the cells.
The outer door opened to an expanse of Wyoming sunshine. At Mabel's,
we bought bacon, eggs, home fries and coffee for a dollar. Ate outside on picnic tables,
quiet in the morning chill.
For Jean Kilquist
At Ellen Bass Workshop
080411; 050316c; 050315, 3-12-05 1b (not part of poem)