The Third Wife

Mike Barlow

My first wife knew no more than me, no telling

where her needs ended, mine began. One day though

I turned the hill to find the boat moored in the field,

the house out in the bay, adrift, door open wide.

I rowed out to a message on the mat: gone

to my cousin's place in Valparaiso.


My second wife blew ashore in a force ten

leading a shipload of apprentices astray

with her white dress, her turned-up Nordic nose,

her precious bible clutched in a manicure hand.

No matter how I pumped, the organ of her heart played flat,

her painted smile as wooden as a figurehead's.


My third wife won't say where she lives.

She comes to me when the tides are right,

stays longer if a wind's got up or fog's come down.

I stroke the warm loaves of her biceps, kiss

dimpled elbows, listen for the souch

our breathing makes when we're together.


She has cousins everywhere. They post her money

in denominations the local shop won't take

or drop by uninvited while we're having tea. They push me

into corners, whisper her address. I turn a deaf ear.

This is my third wife I explain, who's known

many husbands, some worse some better than me.