national anthology of the best
undergraduate writing 2010


Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Donald McMullen

Some poor schmuck
at our gate in the D.C. airport
has brought the woman
he looks at with deer-eyes
a third wrong cup of coffee.
This isn’t half-caff,
says her mouth.
Empty yourself again
and again, say her eyes.
With pleasure,
say his legs, leaping up
the way his necktie does
when propelled by the kick
of his heart, flaring—
the curve of her calf, an inch
from his. She turns him,
up and down, like lipstick
in a tube. Out on the tarmac
a finch lands on the spiked wire
of a power line, to sit
in the slow burn
of its own feathers. He wants
to astonish her with a gesture
just as devastating. Take
my seat on the aisle. Take
my bag of pretzels. Take
nine hours of shoulder
and most of my leg-space.
And she does.
Nothing so dangerous,
or more mighty, says my father,
turning to my sisters and me
as if to teach us something,
than a woman
who’s aware of her beauty.