Beach Towel

By Alan Shapiro

Imagine sitting on some towels on a beach, and

suddenly it’s raining, and you scramble up,

hurrying over the sand with all the towels

to a stall inside the bathhouse where

the towel you choose to dry yourself off with

is only a little dryer than you are,

and then, as you continue drying, isn’t,

it’s wet too, too wet, wetting as much as drying.

You pick another towel up but it’s damp

too, in fact they all are, every one as wet

as you are, towel and skin exchanging

the same dampness—

if the sun were shining you could run outside

and dry yourself, or find another towel

and pass the wetness on

in a one-way tradeoff of damp for dry.

But now imagine that the doors are locked,

the stall door and the bathhouse door, and you,

you can’t get out, you have only these towels,

you can’t escape these towels, you can’t get new ones,

there’s no way to make one thing go one way or

another: imagine energy as dampness,

the jiggling accidents of energy

spread out like dampness over everything

so evenly that there is nothing left

of any kind of more of this for less of

that to balance or redress, no one

to help or call to, nobody else to touch:

Now picture everyone locked up with you,

each in his own stall, having waited there

so long inside that chilly damp enclosure

that the world beyond it may as well not exist,

or ever have existed, and you’re all shivering in

the cold air, but since no warmth remains,

there is no shivering, nobody is there.

Alan Shapiro will publish two books in 2012: Broadway Baby, a novel from Algonquin Books, and Night of the Republic, a book of poems, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Originally appeared in NOR 11.

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