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MMM announces the winner of the 2008 poetry contest, "The Clearing" by Brian Brodeur [bio note], selected by Anne-Marie Cusac.
This poem and the finalists are forthcoming in MMM Vol. X, in 2010.
I’m thinking of Gidge Tomiolo, the Systems Operator
at the Upper Blackstone Treatment Plant
where I worked part-time the summer I turned sixteen
power-washing the tanks, helping technicians
superheat greywater into pellets
we sold to local farmers as fertilizer.
They’d pay whatever we asked, never haggling
Gidge, who’d curse the smoking tractor
as he pulled up to the dock with another pallet
an assembly line of us loaded on flatbeds, our bodies
forming one concordance in the stink.
I guess a part of me must miss that work:
sweating for minimum wage, scraping nightsoil sludge
from under my fingernails, even the afternoon
I got caught in a downpour doing rounds.
That day, walking out past the aureated basins,
I roamed the woods surrounding the property
and trudged up the gully to watch for deer.
That was when I saw them, two nude figures:
a woman and a man sprawled in the clearing,
lying together, their skin turning bright pink.
In the haze, the man looked like—no, was Gidge
closing his eyes as he fondled the ample flesh
of the woman straddling him: ten years younger
and (do I have to say it?) not his wife.
I ducked behind a trunk, all three of us
so engrossed no one noticed the rumbling above us
coming closer, the sky darkening
as the first few drops clicked against the leaves.
So when the clouds cracked open, the downpour
shocked me, sent me hauling-ass
through torrents down the hill, remembering
the utility shed I could use for shelter:
an old stone shack of granite and cement
poured between the gaps below slate shingles.
Huddled under the eaves, I watched the couple
stumble from the woods, still nude, carrying
their clothes and running straight toward me
as I tried kicking the padlock rusted shut.
Panting, Gidge grinned at me, “Nice day for a stroll!”
As he laughed and smacked the woman’s ass,
she dropped her clothes on the steps
and rang out her dripping hair. She looked at me
then looked at Gidge, rolling her eyes, picked up her things
and bunched her sopping blouse against her breasts.
We must’ve stood so close there out of fear.
I know I was scared when a north-west wind
thrashed the trees, the branches
clattering, and Gidge grabbed the woman’s arm
and pulled her closer, told her she’d be warmer
between us two, his arm around my shoulders
squeezing us together, winking at me, still
laughing his belly laugh, his erection
undeniable beside my thigh.
As the woman pressed against me in the heat,
I could feel her trembling, smell the musk
of pine needles and strawberry shampoo
rising from her hair, her skin goose-pimpling
as thunder shook the floor and rattled the panes.
I stared at the rain—it was all I could think to do—
tried not to glance at either’s nakedness,
clenched my fists and kept them at my sides.
Surging across the sky, lightening revealed
backlit heaves of storm, the bigger gusts
splitting boughs and peeling leaves
from yellow poplars, showing no sign of stopping.
Then it was over. Rain slowed to a piddle.
As he struggled into his pants Gidge made some comment
that sent the woman stomping off into the woods
gathering both breasts in one hand, her clothes in the other.
We walked back to the Plant together, Gidge
and I, exchanging the odd grunt, but nothing more.
What was there to say? We both were cold, both
hoping to slip in through the loading dock
and avoid having to answer for our wetness.
Brian Brodeur is the author of Other Latitudes (2008), winner of the University of Akron Press’s 2007 Akron Poetry Prize, and So the Night Cannot Go on without Us (2007), which won the Fall 2006 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Poetry Chapbook Award. Recent poems have appeared in Gettysburg Review, Margie, The Missouri Review, River Styx, and online at Verse Daily. Brian lives and works in Fairfax, VA.