William Palmer

After Forty Years

When she grew to resent
any secret motive


he stopped giving backrubs
until his hands could not bear


the cold. He learned
not to touch anything more


than her neck
like the base of a chalice,


her shoulders like a smooth yoke
that carried the family load,


the slope of her back
with its channel of star-bones,


her warm waist
where he stopped


just before
her soft round risings,


which upon first kissing
he knew he’d always need.


Then, last night, after they
turned off their booklights


she asked him to rub her back.
When he began,


she turned toward him.



I can barely hear her this time
in her recliner, a green blanket


wrapped around her,
her face pale


like an aspen leaf
in a mountain stream.


I get sesame chicken from Dale Yee’s,
her favorite, and cut it up with rice.


My son arrives
all the way from St. Louis:


the kids walk in with balloons
and a blue hyacinth.


I bring out a lemon cupcake
with one lit candle. We sing.


Sophie helps
her blow it out.


After I put on my coat I lean in
as her face rises from the stream—


her eyes suddenly keen, time
tugged back—and she kisses me


on the mouth the way she used to
all those mornings I left for school.


William Palmer’s poetry has appeared recently in Cold Mountain Review, J Journal, On the Seawall, and Poetry East. He has also published two chapbooks: A String of Blue Lights, and Humble. Retired from teaching English at Alma College, he lives in northern Michigan.

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