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Common Time
for lg

After the fourth night without sleep, she let him
lead her to the car, belt her in, a child.
On the radio, someone was playing a concerto
she didn't recognize, a cello rounding deep into

the hum of the engine, then rising up into the night.
He drove her through the mountains, staying
low when he could, taking the curves slow, stopping
to let the locals pass—trying to get into town before

the market closed or worse, the gas station, with its
two lonely pumps and lights flicking like eyes
that can't stay open. He didn't speak. She didn't speak.
And if she woke when he pulled off beside

the river to listen to the coyotes singing to each other,
not a long single movie-mourning note, but the call
of creature to creature across the mountains and the notch,
adagios bound together in the safety of the fog

and dark until one arietta trailed a diminuendo along the ridge
to be answered by the briefest coda that came from
anywhere—the parkland perhaps, or near the highway
to Vermont—if she woke, if she heard them at all, she gave

no sign, her hair flattening against the curve of the headrest.
She might have stirred when the fugue began, but it was
fully dark by then, and he had dimmed the lights to watch
the stars and hope for the Perseids to begin, and if he found

himself wondering if he were seeing the Milky Way or
clouds, it didn't stop his reverence long. If this were her poem,
they might have found a body in the woods, or two
bodies pressing one another against a tree, and only one

of them would love the other even a little bit, or more
likely too much, or they would be lying to each other under
a blanket of stars, an expression she might have understood
that night if she had been awake. Or he would have left

her there, thinking about rivers and the way they find
the lowest ground and get to call it running. She would have
been reminded of the home on the water she had lost,
or the time she'd waded slowly from the shore, her pockets

full of stones, but changed her mind in time
or too soon, depending on when you asked her,
and that might have become her poem. But she, finally,
was sleeping, and he wasn't writing poems, just driving through

the foothills long after the radio had given up on him, long after
he, too, should have been asleep, glad for a little quiet
after the final coyote fermata  and the return, for a while,
of an overlay of shadow to hide his eyes, even from the stars.

Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her recent work is appearing or forthcoming in River Styx, Measure, The Ghazal Page, and Umbrella, which just nominated one of her poems for a Pushcart Prize. She also serves as Associate Poetry Editor for Cider Press Review.

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