Sebastian Matthews

Coming into Lexington, Virginia

If I were a drifter in town
on foot or off some old Trailways,
free of the lifelines and buoys
that attach to lives like mine,


I’d head for the bar, for
the lonely woman dropping
back a shaft of vodka
for lunch, sword-swallowing


100 proof sadness—her reflection
in the mirror smiling as if
I were an angel who saw her
exactly in all her splendor,


who knew that she’d leave
the man degrading her
by holding her to a treaty
she’d not signed. Miraculously,


I’d have money, clean with pressed
clothes and a rich man’s smile,
and I’d lay down bills for a room
in the town’s only respectable


boarding house. And after a long
shower in which I name aloud
in the breezy room all the women
I’d ever slept with, or kissed,


I’d step out into the streets,
find a fancy bistro with glass tables.
At the bar: my lonely woman,
surrounded by cologned men


busy admiring themselves
in her company, who make room
reluctantly. Before taking her
to our table, I’d hold forth


on baseball, evoking the great
Sachel Page. Outside, the gorgeous
blue night and lights dancing
in all the car windows.


And across the street, an old civil war
graveyard that we dream full
of former slaves fallen beside soldiers,
confederate and union, stones worn


smooth from the hands of bored
schoolchildren. Our meal as elegant
as wedding cake. And while I’m at it,
this sad woman growing lovely in aloneness,


dropped hands in mine, laughing,
like at a jazz club, drenched in joy,
and the bassist coming off a mountain-
top solo. And, later, I take her


to my room, watch her navigate
the old steps, let her undress in front
of me—dropping her cares, one piece
at a time, onto the unswept floorboards.



“Coming into Lexington, Virginia” was first published in New England Review.