The first was Yugoslavian, a sleek boy
lean as a greyhound. He barely spoke English,
I could only offer Russian, and of course
it didn’t really matter—we only spoke in tongues.
The second lived in a subdivision—this was
the seventies. We made out on his water bed
next to a tower of caged pet rabbits—they were never
silent, always rustling nimbly through deep pine shavings.
The third was a Pennsylvania farm boy.
He didn’t know what we were doing until
we did it. Finally. Oh my god he said. I said.
We smoked cigars, drank Mad Dog, dozed.
A year will pass, or maybe a month. I will send him
a postcard one summer saying something
kind, something that will still end in goodbye.
The fourth boy would only do it on Saturday night.
The fifth believed in Jesus, the sixth in medical school,
the seventh in the power of roses. The eleventh
lived in a tent in the woods. Later, into my twenties
and counting, there was the one who sold used cars,
tended bar, had a silver mirror on the ceiling over
his bed. I remember exactly what I looked like.
There was the one who had the very small
dog. There was the one who drank Pepto-Bismol
for breakfast. The one after that who preferred gin.
The one I fell in love with. The ones I did not.
The earth slipped ten thousand times around the sun.
The boys turned into men:
The one who wasn’t quite divorced.
The one who was widowed.
The one who had always lived alone.
Years passed. Half a century passed.
I remember the rabbits who lived in the cages.
They were white, and brown, and black.
Once, late on some long ago afternoon,
the boy reached into a cage, gently caught one
of the smallest ones, and placed it in my cupped hands.
I remember how warm it was
how its heart fluttered,
how its intricate whiskers caressed my skin.
They loved you—they all loved you. You had no idea.
–Jean Harper (Wells County)
Jean Harper’s essays have appeared in North American Review, The Iowa Review, Florida Review, and elsewhere. Her writing has been supported by Yaddo, MacDowell, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Indiana Arts Commission, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her first book, Rose City: A Memoir of Work, won the Mid-List Press first Series Award in Nonfiction. She teaches at Indiana University East, and lives in rural Wells County, Indiana.
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem from an Indiana poet every day in April (hand-selected by Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras). Check in daily to see who is featured next!