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In the last year of my marriage,
among a hundred other symptoms I wrote a poem called
"The Woman across the Shaft"—she was someone
I never met—she had long bare legs
on a summer night when she answered the phone
in her kitchen and lifted her legs to the table
while she talked and laughed and I tried to listen
from my window across an airshaft between buildings
and watched her legs. I doubt she was beautiful
but her legs were young and long
and she laughed on the phone

while I sat in my dark of dissolving faith

and I tried to capture or contain the unknown woman
in a poem: the real and the ideal,
the mess of frayed bonds versus untouched possibility,
so forth. Embarrassed now
I imagine a female editor
who received "The Woman across the Shaft"
as a submission to her magazine—the distaste she felt—
perhaps disgust she felt—I imagine her
grimacing slightly as she considers writing "Pathetic"
on the rejection slip but instead lets the slip stay blank
and then returns to another envelope
from a writer she has learned to trust,
crossing her long legs on her smart literary desk.

—Mark Halliday

from Selfwolf, 1988
Ohio University, Athens, OH

Copyright 1988 by Mark Halliday.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Oberlin College Press from FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. Copyright 1988 by Mark Halliday. For further permissions information, contact Mark Halliday, 12750 Rich Lane, Athens, OH 45701.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Mark Halliday (1949- ) is the author of six poetry collections, including Thresherphobe (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Halliday earned a BA and an MA from Brown University, and a PhD from Brandeis University.

Learn more about Mark Halliday at The Poetry Foundation.