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The Girl in the Backseat Returns to Pittsburgh

 

Now I see the statue at the traffic circle is not
a talk between Satan and some poor lady who
doesn’t know her dress has fallen past her waist.

Lyre in one hand, the other waves witlessly
in the wind as her breasts float for all the world
to see; he doesn’t care, too busy leering

at the girl in the backseat who hates
his lips and curly hair, gumdrop horns, and those
horrible hooves stuck on the ends of his legs.

The clammy glass rooms at Phipps Conservatory
make the girl woozy in her winter coat,
studying the textures of tropical tree trunks.

Only the chrysanthemums’ acrid scent
clears her head. An ancient docent intones,
           It is the dark that makes them bloom.

Relentless budding forces yellow mums huge
and round as a girl’s head, so heavy their stems
must be tied to sticks. Where the mills along 376

used to shoot lavender flames is only sky
and water now. I can’t breathe, driving through
the Squirrel Hill Tunnel, until I remember

the balloon cheeks of the girl in the backseat,
who always sucked and held her breath at times like this.
         But it’s great to breathe,

even in tunnels. Great to sit up front and drive
my own Chevrolet. Great to be able to read
the statue’s inscription after all these years:

       A Song to Nature. Pan the earth god
      answers to the harmony and magic tones
      sung to the lyre by sweet humanity.

Amazing to finally see humanity figured
as a careless woman, singing; great to see Earth
as a goaty man, such relief to find this bald

fact cast in bronze: the woman must be
immodest—and never seem to mind at all—
if she wants to hear Pan answer her song.


Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Poetry in America (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011)