Oh no, we never mention her.
   —Because her name might make
Such hellish images recur
   As even Fred can’t take?

For once your guess would turn out wrong:
   This time the problem is
Not letting Fred go on too long
   With happy memories.

She was his secretary, and more;
   And so they went away
To take off March and April for
   A working holiday.

A peasant hut, fixed by a friend:
   From nine Fred would dictate
While she took shorthand and got tanned.
   (As Fred’s now keen to state,

Such work together may enrich
   Vacant vacation days
To a good intimacy which
   You miss if you just laze.)

Then, sour wine and canned corned beef
   And next, an icy swim
From the sea-urchin-studded reef:
   It all seemed fine to him.

A stroll down to the little port,
   A trudge the two miles back
Heavy with provender they’d bought
   Between them in a sack.

At dusk she’d do the typing up
   While Fred set to and strove
To stew the stuff on which they’d sup
   Upon the butane stove.

And so to bed. It seemed to him
   The soft play of desire
Sank through a salt-aired sleep to brim
   Contentment each day higher.

Then home. The recent victim of
   A marital affray,
So still too numb to mention love,
   Fred let her get away.

Was she a rose without a thorn?
   Fred asks as one of those
Who’s more than once been scratched and torn
   By thorns without a rose.

And if they’d wed? Though Fred will say
   Well, thorns are bound to sprout,
And petals fade and fall away,
   One sees he’s still in doubt.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 30 Number 7, on page 32
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