Highway billboard between Columbia and Kingdom City, Missouri
“Hell” is on fire, flames throbbing, hotter
than the 98-degree day vibrating outside
my windshield. I’m not convinced the sign
is true. I’m one of the lost.
Along an extravagant street in another country
I prowled the blue-lit windows, starved
as a stray cat licking its whiskers.
Each miniature world was illuminated
by its own bright sun, a magical point of light
that dazzled off facets, ricocheted from shaped links
and loops and ropes and polished chains
that I supposed would hold me so gorgeously
I wouldn’t try to slip through a carelessly open door.
I lusted after such opulence. Will that lust
drag me down to hell shimmering
like a pagan Christmas tree?
Consider this harsh conviction in the context
of fidelity, a measured approach based on facts:
after whom one is lusting should matter.
Should a little debauched fun between friends
have such disquieting consequences?
Where is it written that lust has to end
after vows are said, children born,
a big fat mortgage added to the mix?
I am the sort of woman who worries
about fitting in, being invited to bridge club
and to play tennis. The billboard is comforting.
Imagine a place where entertainments like lust
are the thread knitting everyone together.
Have you been in hell? Tortured?
Hopeless? Eyes red and swelled
with tears that will not cease? Your heart
hammering? Have you lain down
with dread, awakened with it clinging
to your pillow? Tangled in your hair?
There have been times when,
having indulged satisfactorily,
I considered the last two amber inches
in an exceptional bottle of single malt,
and didn’t stop myself from pouring
the last dram into my glass.
I’ve indulged in daylight sensuality,
celebrated its languid lustiness,
then napped late into the afternoon,
disinterested in further exertion.
I envy sanctimonious do-gooders,
one brilliant success after another.
I delighted in my bad decisions,
did the ‘walk of shame.’ I still want
to dress up and strut around
with my head high, neckline low,
hoping some guy—much younger than me—
will eye me lustfully, providing an opportunity
to be dragged down to hell one more time.
Nancy Pritchard is a life-long St. Louisan. Her poems have appeared in a number of journals, including Natural Bridge, December, The Cape Rock, Mankato Poetry Review, PMS (PoemMemoirStory), Melic Review, Poetry Southeast, Fugue, and two collections of Harvest: Jewish Writing in St. Louis. She received an MFA at University of Missouri-St. Louis. She won the 2005 and 2006 Wednesday Club Poetry Contests (T.S. Elliot only won once) and the Arts in Transit award. She has taught poetry to middle school students in the St. Louis Public Schools for Springboard to Learning(www.springboardstl.org) since 2006. She is an avid traveler, athlete, and grandmother of 12. Although she is obsessed with reading the obits (especially in the New York Times) she hopes hers is still a long way off.