Lou Rowan

for all Princes and Princelings

We were on the leather couch your father gave you, soft and long enough to lie on. How many men sat here with you, taking in your ripe legs, your round knees, how many did more than look? I was holding your small strong hand. We chattered as the teenagers lurched through. Your hands, relaxed demurely on their backs in your lap, lured me when I first saw you, perfectly postured on a camp chair.

When I proposed to you, going to my knees by the bed, putting on your slim finger an emerald you wear opposite the platinum set that succeeded it, we shared our joy with the son to whom you are closest, but he already knew: Yes, I’m so happy for Mom, there hasn’t been a steady man around here since Brian.

I wondered about others when you let me into your twin bed. Your bedroom gave on the tangled yard from which the cat would leap to watch us at the west window.

You’re a fast driver. You love to laugh. You say what you think. Or is it what you feel? I can’t keep up, the love story curdles in my head.

Maybe that’s why I dreamed we were walking down Fifth Avenue towards the Museum of Modern Art on our first date, and I was tired from my work in the office above the atrium and feeling I deserved to be tired. But you were excited to be on the Avenue with me, stimulated by the hustle oppressing me, and you kept talking until you noticed my lassitude. You tried to lure me to your enthusiasm, but the crowds and the traffic muffled your words; too much effort to stay abreast, I let your hand go and fell behind, knowing you would be miffed by my losing contact, nursing my self-righteousness as a vast black square Hummer slammed into the crowd, wiping the sidewalk clean of people before the steps of St. Thomas Cathedral, whose traditional services I have for decades longed to attend in memory of my language-rich adolescence at boarding school. Into the sidewalk clean but for gum-spots fell a toothless derelict whose pink-purple face indicated something inside pushing him to the brink of death. Blood spreading on his grimy plaid shirt prevented thumping his heart. The only hope was to breathe into the smelly depths of his lungs through the spumey yellow of his mouth, and no one in the literal or figurative uniform of a good Samaritan materialized.

Retching I step from the crowd that jostles me with the outrageous force of bodies thirty-deep, hating my sense of obligation to some obscure higher being motivating my benevolence as I remove my tie, hand my jacket to an old lady who clasps it to her drooping bosom, fresh from communicating at Anglican evensong. I bring my face to the bum’s face, attach my mouth to his, the sticky moisture establishing a hermetic seal. I blow hard, remembering how strong my lungs are from a youth of swimming and wrestling and a middle-age of jogging, and while my mouth is working his mouth my nose is enduring a stench worse than any subway bathroom. He’s beginning to twitch; his yellow crusty eyes open wide, focus on me, and during my next powerful breath into his gummy hole he throws his arms around my neck, thrusts his tongue into my mouth, twitching, and groaning in pleasure. He slides his body under mine and grasps me with his legs. I am too weak to detach myself from his pleasures, and presently he threatens to wrestle me to my back, where my limp nakedness will be exposed and abused before the evening rush hour crowd on Fifth Avenue. The old lady steps up and yells “Heel” in a booming voice that summons two policemen and an ambulance crew, who because my starched white shirt is covered with blood and dirt do not know if they should rescue me or the bum or both, but because the bum is yelling in Australian intonation that just because I gave him a dollar that doesn’t give me the right to take liberties they let him go and strap me to a stretcher despite my outrage and my business card. No one in the crowd will attest to my good character and my good deed. They attach an IV near my bicep in the ambulance.

I wake late the next afternoon, feeling hung over. My bed gives on a view of the harbor I am amazed a hospital can afford in a Manhattan run by relentlessly competing developers.

You are ecstatic, you’ve never seen such a total panorama of the harbor, and while I think about Stephen Crane’s sky and the pollution producing the pinks and purples of the sunset, the dirty water, the chemical plants in Jersey, the hands that led me to you caress my cheek, smooth my hair, remove my IV, give me clothing that is big and floppy on me. I roll up the pantslegs and the sleeves and you say, “Hey cool, great look.”

You open the window, persuade the window-washer to give us a ride down on his platform, and your laughter while I grip the ropes and hide my eyes from the view above below and around is music that a string quartet plays on the concrete esplanade for the rush-hour crowds, and once again I can love the big city

I have never broken a bone, never suffered debilitating disease. It has been decades since I’ve experienced financial insecurity.

Whenever you look angry my heart sinks, all grace of speech and motion leaves me.

You are 5’7” and weigh 140. I have bench-pressed you. If we fought I could hurt or immobilize you in seconds.

The Prince of Wales endeared himself to me by writing his lover he longed to be a unit of Tampax inside her.

I belong in the crowd that loves a lover.

His princess was alive when Prince of Wales sought to pick you up. He’d completed a polo match. Famous actors and rock stars watched. The pinkness of his pale royal complexion, the glints of perspiration at his temples were dramatic in the Florida sun. He jumped from the tons of lethal animal he had controlled through perilous jostlings to ask if the match was a pleasure for you.

Heads turned. You are blond. You are so lively that friends of your children have made passes at you.

I pursued you so assiduously by car, phone, letter that one evening when you asked me not to come by, hinting another man would be there, I cried in your passenger seat. When we first kissed you closed your eyes, following my receding face with a sigh, as if I was breathing you in. It was dark, and we were on a bridge across the rushing stream that confounded Ichabod Crane. We could see the bright foam where rocks speeded the waters. You love the word “romantic.” I was smitten by everything you touched, like your car, which your son had backed into a fire hydrant, denting the center of the trunk with a vertical crease, so that I could pat its big grey ass.

You continued home to your father’s condo for a swim, while the Prince of Wales retreated, mallet on his shoulder, trudging the vivid turf his huge steed paused now and then to crop.