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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023
The Sleeping Beauty, poems by LaWanda Walters.
The Sleeping Beauty
I was at a low ebb, sitting at the built-in booth
in your kitchen, watching you in your Bermuda shorts,
your calves so pretty, like Errol Flynn’s,
as you jousted with the grilled-cheese sandwiches,
figuring out how to split them so there would be
enough. The half-sandwich I ate was delicious.
Then I started crying again and ran upstairs
melodramatically, I thought, but really I was drunk
on gin-and-tonics, my all-time favorite drink.
(I’m not saying they’re good for you.)
And fell asleep on your son’s twin bed in the room
that had steps up into the attic.
Your wife and her friend had left for the bar.
My husband had fallen asleep some place upstairs.
You were left having to entertain us all, and annoyed.
My husband slept through it all. The kids ran up and down
the stairs, all around the house, watched TV in the basement
room, cozy with a fireplace. It was a Sears Catalogue house.
You must have washed the dishes, then come upstairs
in your enticing shorts, but I was dead asleep, black-out drunk.
You say I was awake, talking about killing myself.
My husband had a brain tumor, and we had come over
without calling first. His legs used to be so muscular
from water skiing, ice skating,
but lately were horribly swollen from prednisone.
It was hard to get those socks on his legs.
Anyway, I may remember talking about killing myself
as I ran upstairs. But then I was dreaming
a high-school boy was trying to stick his tongue
in my mouth. It had been a long time since high school.
Gradually, during that high-school experience,
the score up in the klieg lights,
I started waking up. The high-school guy turned out
to be you. I thought, well, I know him,
and he does have pretty legs. I let my lips go open.
I woke up in love with you.
My fear is that these headaches keep me
from focusing. I can’t stretch the nerve taut
enough to think in that way it takes
to write a poem, so I have these ideas
but don’t take them on. Playing those notes
means twisting the little knobs tighter
on the violin’s scroll, making the E
string hurt like my scalp when my mother
rolled my hair up with bobby pins.
It hurt to sleep that way.
© LaWanda Walters
LaWanda Walters earned her M.F.A. from Indiana University, where she won the Academy of American Poets Prize. Her first book of poems, Light Is the Odalisque, was published in 2016 by Press 53 in its Silver Concho Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Georgia Review, Nine Mile, Radar Poetry, Antioch Review, Cincinnati Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, The American Journal of Poetry, Laurel Review, North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, Alligator Juniper, and several anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2015, Obsession: Sestinas in the Twenty-First Century, and I Wanna Be Loved by You: Poems on Marilyn Monroe. She received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in 2020. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, poet John Philip Drury.