And so she took off her shirt, all
in one motion, pausing
to make her hesitation an act of modesty,
yet immodest. We had not had

an affair, and could never have an affair.
It was not that she was not beautiful,
though she wasn’t, and not that I
didn’t know the desire of other men

to sleep with her. The Atlantic
lay in the harbor, fusing its blue disorders
to the light slatted through blinds,
the light that barred her breasts.

They were, need I say, nearly perfect.
I saw how proud she was of them,
proud too of their effect on men,
and I knew I wasn’t the first man

before whom, in one sinuous motion,
she had stripped off her shirt.
It made her vulnerable, that mute beauty,
thinking no man who saw her naked

could control his desire. Even after
I had refused her, she had been unable to stop.
She looked away, as if in shyness,
to let me watch her as she wished to be watched.

Then she put on her other shirt.
When I saw her recently, twenty years
had passed, and those years cruel
to women, even women you love.

New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 20 Number 7, on page 35
Copyright © 2023 The New Criterion |