Sixteen!! The Combiners (Excerpt)
This is an excerpt from a longer narrative poem in my book, Prairie Moths. It is the final section of “The Combiners” –a poem about the itinerant workers who would drive up from Oklahoma each summer to harvest the wheat crop in South Dakota. This infusion of fresh young men was, of course, exciting to teenaged girls whose own male classmates were a bit immature. Not that any of us ever did anything about it. Imagining and talking was enough for us at the age of sixteen!
I saw him first on the bleachers
on the other side of the floor.
As dancers came together and parted,
I saw him and then didn’t see him.
After the music stopped, I craned my neck
around the legs that stood in front of me,
trying to see him across the cleared dance floor.
Then the voice at the top of the legs
asked me to dance, and I looked up–at him.
Feeling uncertain, wicked and wild,
I answered yes.
I’d served him once or twice
at Restaurant 16–
that highway-fronting restaurant
as exotic as its name.
I knew he was working the Weston place
with an outfit my dad had never used.
He liked his steak well-done,
French dressing, no tomatoes.
Butterscotch sundaes made him cough.
Over the water pitcher and order pad,
we had traded a look or two.
I knew he wore Old Spice
and drank Cokes with breakfast,
but I didn’t know his name.
When we got to the dance floor,
he took my hand,
put his other hand on my damp waist.
It was a slow dance and the night was hot.
The dance was work.
I was awkward–too inhibited to get as intimate
as following in dancing requires.
Over the music, we tried to shout our names,
tried to find a mutual rhythm,
finally giving up both endeavors
to dance the slow song, not touching,
moving our arms in fast song 60’s style
to the slow song rhythms.
When the music stopped,
he walked me back again
to the bleacher
he had plucked me from,
reinserted me into the correct space in the line of girls,
smiled, and walked away.
My friends closed around me
like a sensitive plant
to hear the news.
I watched his back,
blue short-sleeved shirt,
his pressed Levis
and his cowboy boots.
I watched the Oklahoma swing of his hips–
danger on the hoof.
He wouldn’t ask me to dance again,
yet, his sun-blackened arms,so finely muscled,
had held me for a minute or two.
His bleached blue eyes
had seen something of worth in me.
He had asked my name, touched my waist,
and walked me off the dance floor.
And, since this was as spicy
as any of our stories would likely be
all summer long,
I turned to my friends to tell the tale.