“State of Grace” by Anna M. Evans

Anna M. Evans


for DF … and Wisconsin

I. Green Lake


Even the clouds look different, more defined.
The lake is silver, ripples flash like teal
minnows before the bow; the wake, behind
is jubilantly frothy. This is real.
You tell me stories of your lake-life youth.
They’re tinged with silver too and glow with joy.
The small boat’s engine counters: this is truth.
You tell me how you met your man, a boy
who made you laugh at parties. This is breath.
A light wind makes a halo of your hair.
I feel at ease with, although far from death,
And take a deep gulp in of summer air
to ask the question that this day makes clear:
would I be you if I had grown up here?



II. Interstate 41


Would I be you if I had grown up here—
this land of cloistered dairy cows and lakes,
straight roads that narrow till they disappear,
skirted by fields of corn? For argument’s sake,
the answer’s no, but maybe it’s a yes.
Aren’t we all products of our circumstances?
My English parents did, I must confess,
endow me with a decent set of chances
then add a lust to see and know and do
more than they did, which hurled me overseas,
led me to the place where I met you
and brought me to your state. This notion frees
me of the envy, loosens up the guilt.
Each of us owns the hard-won world she’s built.



III. Oshkosh I


Each of us owns the hard-won world she’s built.
Your house a twisted mirror of my own—
slate-surfaced tables, lots of wood, no gilt—
not perfect, but in every sense a home.
You have a tomcat who prowls countertops,
a dog who rests her muzzle on my knee.
We sit on your deck in tee shirts, shorts, flip flops.
I marvel at how much you are like me.
Except …
… out here, you always watch Fox News
and like Oshkosh, your vote is ruby red
while I’m a sworn-in member of the blues.
I quiet the stubborn voice inside my head
that says we can’t be friends. I will not hear,
won’t be constrained behind a wall of fear.



IV. Lake Butte des Morts


I won’t be constrained behind a wall of fear
and yet the rope is slithering from my grip.
You yell at your husband, but he doesn’t hear.
Keen to impress, I hold on till I slip.
Baptized in the shallow water of the lake,
I scramble up, reborn. We shake with laughter.
Whatever this friendship is, it isn’t fake.
I shed my sodden clothes, know each time after
that wearing them will summon up this day
and how my accent, too, began to slide
into the drawn-out O, the Wisconsin A.
I’m holding on now, in it for the ride.
The boat speeds from the boat launch and its silt.
I shape my mouth—my new Midwestern lilt.



V. Dockside Tavern


I shape my mouth around the Midwest lilt,
self-conscious in a bikini at the bar—
my clothes too wet to wear since I got spilled—
and order lunch to go. We’re heading far
across the lake to somewhere you call Stretches.
I have no data I can use to draw
comparisons. My overcharged brain sketches
and then discards ideas. When we unmoor
I try to relax, and suddenly I do,
my tense muscles uncoiling like a rope.
The sun casts blessings from a sky so blue
all apprehension vanishes in hope
a body can surrender like a voice.
Remember that contentment is a choice.



VI. Oshkosh II


Remember that contentment’s about choices.
The day before, we’d sat upon your bed
and shared our girlhood secrets in low voices,
a frank and warm exchange, which somehow led
to how the Supreme Court had undone Roe.
You didn’t want your state to be that way,
but when I tried to tell you how to show
your disapproval, you went on to say
you couldn’t vote for Democrats—not ever—
because we’re evil, arm around my shoulder.
I let it hurt, but couldn’t let it sever
the bonds we share or turn our friendship colder.
You cannot understand what you don’t see.
I have no way to make you think like me.



VII. Lake Winnebago I


I have no way to make you think like me,
but just for now, we’re visibly in sync,
sitting up front like sisters, knee to knee.
Your husband, steering, throws us a fond wink
then opens up the throttle to full force,
and now the boat is bouncing through the wake
of one in front as he sets a direct course
to our destination. This is a vast lake
to me, accustomed to the Jersey shore.
This body of water somehow dwarfs the ocean,
lacking the waves that find a sandy floor.
I am so thrilled to yield to the motion,
the motor thrumming like an inner voice 
in a rhythm that insists we all rejoice.



VIII. Stretches I


In a rhythm that insists we all rejoice
the boat converges on our destination.
I look around. It’s as if, with one voice
Oshkosh’s boat-owning population
has named this sandbar as the place to meet—
pontoons and motor cruisers, large and small
are roped in lines together, like a fleet
of sailing partygoers. Your friends call
and we tie up then anchor next to them.
Men stand in waist-deep water, beers in hand,
and women lounge on swim decks. You say, Come!
and help me lower myself onto the sand.
The opaque water’s warmer than the sea.
You’re showing me your life. It’s heavenly.



IX. Dublin’s


You’re showing me your life. It’s heavenly,
like how we visited the Irish bar
where your son cooks. You were so proud of me—
your friend, the poet—as if I were a star.
They asked me for a haiku, which I wrote
and after that, my glass was always full.
Why should it matter to me how you vote?
An afternoon with you is never dull.
It was a relief, not to have to think,
to sing the lyrics to an Irish song,
pull the tabs off lottery cards, and drink,
forget the ways the country’s going wrong,
put any hint of conflict out of mind,
surrender to the moment and be kind.



X. Fox River Brewery


Surrender to the moment and be kind,
which means that when you’re hungry you should eat
and tip well. I was in the frame of mind
to wear a sundress, something loose and sweet,
so we went home, got changed, and did our hair,
then found a table outside by the dock,
took pictures perched upon a huge lawn chair
and watched the sunset. The relentless clock
had never been so silent. Was it the band?
The lively music somehow soothed my soul.
Or was it that a day could be unplanned
and still be perfect? I felt peaceful, whole.
Of course, the salmon tacos were sublime.
It was a day outside of rules and time.



XI. Oshkosh III


It was a day outside of rules and time.
We swayed into your house, a little drunk,
and then we called as one, partners in crime
for eighties music—indie rock, not punk,
and danced barefoot and wild like maniacs—
Blondie, The Smiths, Aha, Kate Bush, The Cure
and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”
while belting out the words we knew. I’m sure
your husband thought that we were both insane
but still played barkeep, audience, DJ
until our energy began to wane
and then we put our teenage years away
amazed how much our music tastes aligned.
You were the friend I’d always longed to find.



XII. Stretches II


You are the friend I always longed to find.
We need sunscreen, you say, then spray it on
my skin, tan lines already well-defined.
I slide back in the water, but you yawn
and tell me that you’re going to take a nap.
I dunk myself then swim around the boats,
a slow and lazy breaststroke. Every lap
your husband checks I’m still okay….Your votes
seem so incongruous, as if a song
I loved turned out to have satanic meaning—
how can I feel so comfortable, belong
with people whose beliefs are so right-leaning?
You break the structure of my paradigm.
Except for this one dissonance, we rhyme.



XIII. Lake Winnebago II


Except for that one dissonance, we rhyme. 
On the way back, your husband stops the boat
in the middle of the lake, because it’s time
to watch the sun go down. We bob and float
as the sky turns pink, painted with copper streaks
reflecting in the lake as burnished gold.
I haven’t felt this calm inside for weeks.
The beauty of it makes me feel less old
and that all things are possible. I didn’t know
how much I’d love Wisconsin till I came,
how hard it would be then to let it go,
and that, back home, I’d never be the same,
shaken forever from complacency,
because you are so like, yet unlike me. 



XIV. New Jersey


Because you are so like, yet unlike me
I’ve gifted you an audiobook I heard
on motherhood and choice. It’s not a plea
for change, but if there’s power in a word
maybe these ones will have some pull on you.
I’ve never thought the world was black and white,
so why accept it must be red and blue?
I’ve changed my desktop image to the lake
at sunset so I never will forget
the harmony. I think for both our sake
we always should be friends. I’m in your debt
because you and Wisconsin made me see
there’s hope for this sweet land of liberty.





Would I be you if I had grown up here?
Each of us owns the hard-won world she’s built,
won’t be constrained behind a wall of fear.
I tried to shape my mouth around the lilt,
remember that contentment is a choice,
and I’d no way to make you think like me.
In a rhythm that insisted I rejoice
you showed me how you live. It’s heavenly—
surrender to the moment and be kind.
And all these days were outside rules and time.
You are the friend I’d always longed to find.
Except for one big dissonance, we rhyme.
Is there—because you’re like, yet unlike me—
some hope for this sweet land of liberty?

from Rattle #78, Winter 2022


Anna M. Evans: “Recent polls suggest that about two thirds of Democrats do not have Republican friends. Bucking this trend, I spent five summer days in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, visiting a woman I first met outside of both our home states, and it was blissful, even though our political views are complete opposites. Poetry can be used to explore such large, complex subjects, and because form needs to match content, this subject called for a heroic crown of sonnets. I have been advised that some people on my side of the aisle may object to the congeniality of my poem, and that is, of course, part of the point.” (web)

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