Back to Issue Thirty-Three

Two People




Two people at the end of a dock, facing the sea, the sky.
Behind them a party, clink of glasses.
Guests still relevant to their lives
But not essential;
Parents, family friends.

Two people not yet old, but no longer young.
Before them the bay, they’re facing west, they’re watching the sun go down.
The sky is bright, and then, remarkably, it’s dark again.

They’ve never done this before,
They’ve done it a thousand times.

The sun goes down,
The stars come out,
Even the lights above the patio are beautiful.



How do you imagine the shape of one lifetime?
A circle, a tangle of lines? He knows
That if he kisses her
She’ll kiss him back,
But he waits, they’re going to spend their lives together; he knows that, too.

Behind them, growing louder, the past:
The one who left, the one who would not go away—

What happens when a wish comes true?
A room by the sea, a bed, a chair.

You’re a little sunburnt, a breeze, white curtains billowing,
And as you raise your arms
She lifts the tee shirt from your body.
Perfect gentleness, the perfect glint of pain.



Where will we be in five years, five years after that?
This is a game they play.
Often they play it in a restaurant, Rue de L’Espoir.
A basket of bread, two round glasses of wine. How free they feel!

Five years from now I want us each to have a book.
We’ll live in London, maybe Rome.

Five years from that we’ll have a baby, what will we name her? She’ll be a girl.

It all comes true—everything
They ever wished
And more, many books, two girls.

Remember the party behind them, the voices?
They never went away.
But the sound of the sea grew louder.



By now you understand I’m the boy, or that I was.
We’ve lived in the same houses, the red, the yellow, then the brown—
The girl is in her attic study right
Above my head, right now; she’s writing a book.

Her fierce intelligence, her beautiful body—
Where will I go
Without her? What will I see?

One of our daughters lives in Boston, one in New York.
They walk to work past boats, fishmongers, the bars.
We’ve lived far
From the ocean for thirty years.

I had made up my mind: any distant city would serve my purpose.

That turned out also to be true.


James Longenbach is the author of many books of poems, most recently Earthling (Norton), which was a finalist for the National Books Critics Circle Award, and many books about poetry, most recently The Lyric Now, forthcoming from Chicago. He is Joseph Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester.


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