Canticle for University Parks, Oxford
When the sun finally breaks and the air is soft and muggy enough to swim in
and the sidewalks are cracking from foot traffic and the brutalism of Wolfson
is weighing on the soul you will find us between willows older than God,
along the forearm of the River Cherwell, treading on clean stones
(because nothing here stays dry long enough to dirty), talking about Sylvia Plath
and home and how lonely the buildings look today and wondering
if they ever take a break from their grandeur to just sit and listen.
Today he is wearing short sleeves for the first time in ages
and I am learning to hate sweaters for the way they’ve hidden his skin.
Already he is stealing this place from me. I know it
by the way I am afraid to uncover some rotting leaf for fear of finding him there.
He is the snipped tail on the dog we love and the ripples from a punt pole;
he is the thrill of the jackhammer two blocks down; the bicycle bell and the loose pram
wheel; the daisy field and the cricket pitch and the bench where he pauses
to tie his shoe. He is telling me about Sylvia Plath, how he lost her last month
on a Ryanair plane to Greece. (How he manages to lose everything he loves
right in the middle.) Our path ends at the corner of Parks Road and Norham Gardens
where every double-decker in Oxford is waiting for us. It is June,
and the last day we will see each other, and the whole city feels like it is coming alive.
I’d forgotten all of it until now:
his dark hair, my dark hair,
the hair on my legs sprouting like moss
on the trees; our skin wet from sweat
and running through the trees; the slant
of the sun as it fell between the trees;
the anxious way we dressed behind different trees;
the later way we searched for conversation
under the needled floor; the gash on his foot
pumping blood onto the kitchen floor; his mom:
What did you need to take your shoes off for?
When you reach the city a car alarm
will sound like a memory you had
once but are already forgetting:
a few bodies you knew, a joint passed
between familiar hands, laughter,
a screeching, singing car. Whose?
Only after shucking off a mortal coil
will you see how beautiful it is:
the rivers and the creek beds bursting with life;
the streets you memorized without trying;
the mountains gathering their towns like a mother
gathers her children in from playing;
and the cars, of course; the cars and the bodies
who filled them; the cars and the car alarms;
hands outstretched in tag; the gentlest touch
that sets cars blazing.
David J. Hills is a poet and playwright from the Great Appalachian Valley currently living in Baltimore, Maryland. His work has previously appeared in Flight, an anthology in response to the refugee crisis. You can learn more about David at www.davidjhills.com
Canticle for University Parks, Oxford, Puberty Poem, and Leaving Hagerstown were first published in Issue 15 of Apeiron Review.