“Conditional Perfect Tense” by Joan Wiese Johannes

Joan Wiese Johannes


She could have called him from the motel.
If she had, she would have said,
“Meet me at The Marsh at sunset;
we’ll find a roadside stand
that sells hot-spiced cider,
spirit the geese on their way,
meander home
admiring gold and scarlet leaves.”

But he would have said,
“Mornings are for sleeping,”
wondered out loud if his back could stand
a lengthy drive and told her
he didn’t find migration as meaningful
as mowing the lawn with his new mower
one more time before snow.

So she didn’t stop the car this evening
and wasn’t waiting for him
in the place where Horicon Marsh
would have spread below her,
a world alive with thousands of geese
rippling the sky like black ribbons
freed from formation’s subjugation.

And she has not stopped
at the orchard to buy an apple dipped
in caramel and walnuts
so will not hear him complain
about the mess in his beard
and will not lick his whiskers clean
with laughter and her tongue
or join her sticky lips to his.

They have never strolled down the hill,
arms around each others’ waists
in the tandem-walk of love;
the filtered light of marsh has never glowed
on their faces or softened the sky
to lavender, pink and the evening blues
which he tried once to tell her
were really shades of green.

They have not debated the color of sky today
because she has chosen not to.

And now the sun has set,
the geese have settled for the night,
and she is wandering home precisely
at the time he predetermined yesterday.

from Rattle #19, Summer 2013

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