She Did Not Look Happy
I thought she was unhappy because of us,
because her husband, the smiling and ambitious
Provost of this Ukrainian College,
had instructed her to prepare a picnic,
to entertain us Americans, but perhaps
she had other reasons to be unhappy.
I liked her soft round face, I liked
the firm roundness of her figure, but
I did not like her unhappy face, so
I tried to make her smile, through simple
gestures, carrying one of the bags filled
with food, helping her spread the blanket
and setting up the picnic, letting her know
that I appreciated the work she had done,
letting her know that I appreciated her
and I did all this without speaking her language.
She softened but she did not smile.
We swam in the river, we ate, we drank, and
as the light faded we sang, or at least
the Ukrainians sang. Her husband, who
was at the opposite side of the blanket
had a beautiful voice, a clear baritone
and his friend joined him in a duet
two bare chested men kneeling at the edge
of the blanket, kneeling side by side,
not quite touching, not quite, their
harmony, their pitch their voices as one,
two men singing together, singing together
into the darkness. At one point she joined
them, kneeling behind them.
They ignored her. She touched her husband’s
shoulders, leaning against him, he ignored her,
and I understood the source of her sorrow.
Later, as we walked back to the college campus
the woman and I a little behind the others,
our hands touched, our hands made love
to each other, I can still feel the soft
tenderness of her fingers
and the yearning and the desire
and my fingers responded—
until we reached my room
and our hands parted.
As I entered my room
I turned for a last look.
They had all moved on
but her head turned
and she smiled.