Nancy White

The Three Salesmen

Out of the rain and into the hotel where the party raged,
boots and britches soaked. His coppery hair like an old kettle
blasted inside-out and slammed on his head. Here was a man
who never squealed, squirmy with delight, “Hi!” at a friend
from across the lobby. As a child he must have had toys?
Now as surly as a restaurant lobster, as unlikely to crash this
party as anyone on the planet—one pissed-off Missisippian
hitting the city with justice on his side. He glanced at the desk-
clerk’s clock, ready to make a few of these dancers lose the urge.

Already present, another—splendid! Yet somehow still thwarting
our most gracious plans. Yup, we said, he did it again, sailed
in all boojia-woojia, his candor some cacophonous fetish. We
shriveled back saying, “Dude! It was just an idea!” Not fatuity—
the guy had depth, but he upstaged the okie-dokie attitude
that kept us peppy all through the prep. Elbowed aside by
his extravagant stoicism, our vim just quivered and died.

You know that feeling, where your throat’s stuck and your knees
tingle, where one more jellybean and your skull will pop open
and frivolous remarks come pouring out? We must remain solemn
whatever comes, do not laugh at the clown who is due any moment.
Do not let on that you get it now, do not let on. If you laugh
they’ll ask you to sign, if you won’t sign they’ll ask you why.

Nancy White is the author of three poetry collections: Sun, Moon, Salt (winner of the Washington Prize), Detour, and Ask Again Later. Her poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Review, FIELD, New England Review, Ploughshares, Rhino, and many others. She serves as editor-in-chief at The Word Works in Washington, D. C. and teaches at SUNY Adirondack in upstate NY.